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The feline companions of Istanbul and the legacy of the Sultan’s Trail

Istanbul’s labyrinthine streets are home to sokak kedisi –stray cats who have become the beloved witnesses to the city’s past and present. Statistics claim that Istanbulites share the streets of the city with approximately 125.000 cats. It is no wonder that Istanbul is known as the best place in the world to be a cat.

The city is also the starting point of the renowned Sultan’s Trail, a pilgrimage route stretching from the vibrant Turkish metropolis to the gates of Vienna, bears witness to a unique convergence of history, culture, and spiritual significance.

The Sultan’s Trail, known for its historical importance, traces the footsteps of Sultan Süleyman of the Ottoman Empire. In 1529, Sultan Süleyman initiated a campaign that would lead to the siege of Vienna. This ambitious journey, commencing in Istanbul, saw the Sultan conquering countries and major settlements en route to Austria. Despite three attempts to conquer Vienna (in 1529, 1532, and 1566) Süleyman’s endeavors proved unsuccessful.

The trail blazed on these campaigns is now immortalized as the Sultan’s Trail. Paradoxically enough, the trail is nowadays considered a symbol of peace, inter-religious dialogue and understanding between peoples. The Route includes places of major cultural and religious meaning, such as Hagia Sophia and St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

The Prophet’s Cat

As one navigates the historical tapestry of Istanbul, the presence of stray cats intertwines with the legacy of the Sultan’s Trail. These feline companions, wandering through alleys and squares, bear witness to the footsteps of a bygone era, a time when Istanbul was not only a vibrant center of commerce and culture but also the starting point of epic journeys that shaped the course of history.

In the Islamic tradition that permeates the city, cats hold a revered status. The story of Muezza, Prophet Muhammad’s cherished cat, records the respect accorded to these animals. Tradition claims that Muhammad awoke one day to the sounds of the adhan. As he was getting ready to attend prayer, he began to put his clothes on, only to discover that his cat Muezza was sleeping on the sleeve of his prayer robe. Rather than wake her, he gently cut the sleeve off, leaving the cat undisturbed.

Although there is no mention of any such cat in the hadith or in any other supplementary works, similar stories attributed to someone else may explain the origin of the story. In any case, this cultural reverence for cats extends to their role in daily life, where they are considered ritually clean, allowed entry into homes and mosques, and even granted the privilege of sampling food without rendering it impermissible for Muslims.

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