Istanbul – A City Ruled by Cats

I chose December for visiting Istanbul and I couldn’t have chosen better. The city was absolutely free from crowds of European tourists and I could have felt the authentic atmosphere of old Istanbul. Istanbul is an ancient and glorious city but my primal purpose was not to visit the historical sights but exploration of old streets and hidden gems of this marvellous city. I loved to walk the narrow streets of Fatih quarter full of talking and busy people. But they were not busy in the European way (everyone is hasting somewhere for his own goals), Istanbulites were also hasting and hurrying somewhere but they didn’t mind to stop and talk to their neighbours, friends and they had always time for a shot of good Turkish tea.
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Istanbul has over 14 million inhabitants (similar to whole Belgium) and you will need really enough time to explore it. The city is built on seven hills and every part of the city has very different atmosphere. I have visited 26 capitals but I have never seen so varied life in one city. Main reason could be that Istanbul lies on two continents and is therefore the great mixture of two cultures.
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Stray dogs and cats were my companions in many southern lands from Balkan to Armenia. They were sometimes pleasant surprise and sometimes became a big problem (especially aggressive dogs), but those animals were always an organic part of this world. In Istanbul they have special status. Especially cats are almost everywhere and create decorative element of the whole city. They occupied not only streets but also mosques, historical buildings, shops and restaurants. People of Istanbul adore cats – they feed and shelter them. This relationship has deep roots in Islamic culture because according to a legend, a cat once saved Prophet Mohammad from a snake. Therefore there is also popular saying: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by the God.”
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It is not usual you can visit mosques in Islamic countries. Turkey’s mosques are open to all but of course you have to follow some rules. As usual, the art was closely connected with the religion. I was especially fascinated by colours – strong rich colours, which weren’t only the part of mosques but the part of Istanbul as whole.
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The Bosphorus strait, which separates the European part of Turkey from the Asian part, is an essential element of istanbulian atmosphere. The strait provides beautiful views on the city especially during the night when the whole Istanbul is shining. The Gelati Bridge and local harbours are centres of Bosphorus’ rich life. In the coastal area you can see fishermen at any time, no matter day or night. And of course, cats and dogs also accompany you on your every step.

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