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Passionate experience junkie. Lover of the arts and architecture. Want to see and share the world, one village at a time.

The Felines of Ephesus

House sitting travel
Tiger-striped and thick-furred, a friendly cat pushed her cheek against my tentative hand before lithely flipping on her back, inviting me to a tummy rub. Taking her up on the invitation, my fingers gave a hearty scratch but I could feel thick oily dirt coating my fingertips, so I withdrew my hand with thoughts of vermin and the unpredictable nature of feral cats. Here, in southern Turkey’s ancient city of Ephesus, these wild cats live off tourist handouts or catch small rodents in the surrounding grasslands.

House sitting travel
I am here for the first time, walking the 6000-year-old stone streets and soaking up the ancient vibes of Hittites, Greeks, Romans, and even Antony and Cleopatra. The exotic pair traveled here with their entourage, among them Cleopatra’s sister, who was murdered in Ephesus in 41BC. Cleopatra was here on these very stones.
Nineteen hundred years later these streets are now home only to scrappy felines.

house sitting travel
The juxtaposition of modern day wild cats curled up on acanthus leaf-adorned granite columns is part adorable and part allegory. I want to connect the cats to a story of this mysterious ancient city, somehow bridging past to present, as if the cats themselves convey the story of everyday life so long ago. We belong here, they say to me. We have a story to tell.

house sitting travel
All these years later my brain jumbles the many phases of Ephesus together, as if its history happened in a month-long period instead of six thousand years’ worth. My new found cat friends help me separate the times into neat categories and I can see the projected images on a stone wall like some movie festival from the ancient past.
First of all, I see Ephesus as it was so many years ago. The first people here made rock tools by striking another hard rock upon it, creating a sharp edge. They wore animal skins and progressed little over 4,000 years. My guess is that the cats of those days had to fear for their lives as they became dinner more often than they were given a friendly scratch behind the ear.

house sitting travel
Walking along Arcadian Way, I now see how Ephesus got a new layout with columned streets and definite purposeful structures. My tabby companion lets me know that was around 500 BC. – And what structures they are! Grand marble and granite columns adorn every building front, sidewalk, and entryway. I try to imagine what effort – and how many people – it must have taken to build this expansive city. Stunning relief sculptures, such as Medusa, (a nod to the mythology they believed at the time), adorn every door, every column top and bottom, and even as signs of what a particular merchant sells, such as weapons or statuettes. The product pictures were carved in stone! Think of the expression, “It’s not carved in stone,” and then think of Ephesus where they actually DID carve everything in stone. What a life!

house sitting travel
The people of those days had no electricity, no industrial machines with which to construct or lift the stones weighing tons. So they must have been driven to create such a magnificent place – to toil for years to create one building.
In the case of The Temple of Artemis, their toil would last a decade. The all marble columned tribute to the Greek Goddess was one of The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today the only remains are the temple’s footprint and historical writings found carved in stone elsewhere in Ephesus.

house sitting travel
What were the people like who lived or traveled here? (An aloof cat looks up and away, a sign he tires of my ignorance.) I think they must have worn flowing robes of white – the whiter they were signified wealth and stature – and enjoyed hammered jewelry of metal, silver or gold.
Strolling the big city sidewalks of Ephesus surely felt like the knowledge and progress of the world was at their fingertips for the sophisticated inhabitants.

house sitting travel

The Byzantine period of the 5th and 6th century AD saw the Ephesians prospering. They had running water and a bath house with heated water. They had the Celsus Library, home to 12,000 scrolls of learning, second only to the library at Alexandria. For entertainment they flocked to the 24,000 seat theater to witness gladiator fights or later, after Christianity took hold, human sacrifices to lions. (Let’s just say the entertainment felt like progress to them at the time.)

house sitting travel
I’m guessing it was around that time that cats became companions to people, as structured homes were built, prosperity meant availability of food, and cats could keep vermin away. In 2004, not too far from Ephesus, an ancient grave was discovered in which a cat had deliberately been buried with a human, suggesting domesticity of the felines as far back as 1,500 years ago. My constant companions here today just may be the descendants of those furry friends that trotted here along Arcadian Way or Curetes Street. They would surely have been welcome at a food merchant, keeping mice out of grains stored there.

house sitting travel
One fact keeps smacking me in the face: this place is a ruin. That means the great city of Ephesus was eventually abandoned. It took a thousand years from its heyday for the people to leave, but from my perspective, it feels like a sad blink of an eye.
The cats are the keepers here now, watching over the thousands of fascinated tourists visiting here every year – and hoping for a discarded French fry or two to keep them going for the next generation of Felines of Ephesus.

Wishing you happy and safe travels always and all ways


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28 Responses to “The Felines of Ephesus”

  1. I heard that the tour operator and guides contribute to the welfare of the cats at Ephesus – health wise that is. I am sure the cats love all the attention they get. They seem to enjoy posing 🙂 I love the photo of the orange tabby with his back turned.
    budget jan recently posted..Fantastic Friday – Turkey – The little thingsMy Profile

    January 3, 2014 at 10:12 pm Reply
    • Hi Jan and Happy New Year!
      Yes you are right about local care for the wild cats and dogs in Turkey. The dogs, which I’m sure you saw everywhere too, have ear tags signifying they are disease free.
      Thank you for stopping by,

      January 4, 2014 at 8:30 am Reply
  2. Your pictures showcase the cats in a regal spotlight, Josie! That’s wonderful. That is so awesome that they are taken care of. I would sure hope that they don’t overrun those beautiful grounds though. I’ve learned when reading travel blogs to never be presumptious about pictures – is that a set of side by side ancient toilets? Loved the post! 🙂
    Mike recently posted..Football Food Porn Frittata With Bacon Wrapped Tater TotsMy Profile

    January 8, 2014 at 9:25 pm Reply
    • Hi Mike,
      Haha yes — it IS side-by-side ancient toilets! And we were informed that at the time, slaves would warm up the cold stone before the aristocrats sat down. Doesn’t it give an interesting peek at just how different life was back then?!
      In terms of the animals, cats and dogs were indeed everywhere in Turkey, but never seemed to overrun anywhere. I thought about that, too, when I would see a pack of four or five dogs running through a field — that their numbers could be a problem. I think they must have their own balanced eco-system with natural predators keeping them in check. It’s a cruel world out there, you know?
      Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and comment!

      January 9, 2014 at 1:52 pm Reply
  3. Awwww, I love this!! I did a post about the cross-eyed cat I saw at Hagia Sophia in Oct.2011 and have had a couple of people respond and say that they saw the same cat there over an 11-month span. That made me happy, for some reason!
    Laura Zera recently posted..Mental Health Resources for KidsMy Profile

    March 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm Reply
    • Hi Laura,
      What a famous cat! It is sweet to share travel experiences, no matter how large or small. That cross-eyed cat is definitely comment-worthy. Wishing you safe and happy travels.

      March 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm Reply
  4. It looks like those street cats are in good health, which is great. I love travelling to destinations where there are lots of cats as I’m a cat lover. But it always makes me sad if they look unwell and scruffy. These ones looks great!

    We just returned from the Big Island of Hawaii, and the resort where we stayed had a number of resident cats. We loved it!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..Moana Surfrider: the 1st Lady of WaikikiMy Profile

    March 14, 2014 at 9:02 am Reply
    • Hi Doreen and welcome! Don’t you love all the amazing experiences of travel — including the local wildlife. And you’re right, the cats and dogs were healthy all over Turkey, even if they were in need of a good bath . . .

      March 14, 2014 at 9:14 am Reply
  5. You’ve written a lovely story about Ephesus – and its feline keepers. But don’t forget Ephesus is home to ghosts too :-). Sometimes you can almost hear the whispers of Roman citizens from ancient times bartering with shopkeepers and going about their daily lives…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..Which way to the Juarez Theater in Guanajuato?My Profile

    March 26, 2014 at 11:06 am Reply
    • Hi Janice,
      What a great comment! Thank you so much for your lovely addition to my story. I, too, loved imagining the ancient people going about their daily lives. Just touching the rough-hewn stones gave me a ghostly connection to them.
      Wishing safe and happy travels,

      March 26, 2014 at 11:34 am Reply
  6. I also remember the cats from Ephesus and thinking that they know a lot more than I do
    Paula McInerney recently posted..Eurobodalla Nature’s Own PlaygroundMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 8:30 am Reply
  7. What fun! Well, except for the feral aspect. 😀
    Charles McCool recently posted..8 Great Poconos Summer ActivitiesMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 9:44 am Reply
  8. Beautiful place, regal cats! What a wonderful connection with the story of place at Ephesus. I’ve forwarded it to a friend who was just there…imagine she met a number of your feline tour companions as well.
    Anita recently posted..Lessons from a Catalan kitchenMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 9:50 am Reply
    • Hi Anita,
      I’m so flattered you sent my post to a friend. I sure she must have seen the same cats we did — how funny!
      Wishing safe and happy travels,

      July 6, 2015 at 6:35 pm Reply
  9. The cats of Ephesus also intrigued me when I visited and found a whole slew of them in the public bathrooms using the sinks as their personal beds, they are fun to capture in photographs with the ruins indeed.
    noel recently posted..15 stunning views of PragueMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 9:53 am Reply
    • Hi Noel,
      Cats sleeping in the sinks! I love it! Why not, I guess — the whole place is their home.

      July 6, 2015 at 6:37 pm Reply
  10. I love this story angle! Your photos are lovely, and your narrative a reminder that Ephesus was an important location in pre-Christian times.
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..Context Travel Barcelona: Story within HistoryMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 11:32 am Reply
    • Thank you my friend,
      To have you complement my writing angle is a true triumph on my part. Your writing is so lovely and lyrical. I appreciate you!

      July 6, 2015 at 6:39 pm Reply
  11. Great photos. I would love to step back 2000 years for a glimpse of Ephesus and its people. It is the most fascinating ancient site we’ve ever seen…but we also found ourselves captivated by today’s feline residents.
    Shelley recently posted..Travel More With These Money Saving Travel TipsMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 1:29 pm Reply
    • Hi Shelley,
      Glad you enjoyed Ephesus and the kitties, too — a truly magical place. I could have stayed for the entire day.

      July 6, 2015 at 6:41 pm Reply
  12. Any place that cats choose to inhabit must be OK! I loved all the ruin sites I visited in Turkey. And I love the idea that “The cats are the keepers here now” in Ephesus. Your photos are just fabulous.
    Yasha Langford recently posted..A Day Trip up Paso San FranciscoMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm Reply
    • Hi Yasha,
      I so appreciate your kind words. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      July 6, 2015 at 6:42 pm Reply
  13. Your kitties of Ephesus makes a nice story. If you’d like to submit one of the cat images to my own traveling cats photo gallery, I am happy to link back to your story. I like the first or second cat photo best. http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Photo-Galleries/Photos-of-Cats/photos-of-cats.html
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers recently posted..Great Sleeps: Renaissance Pudong Hotel, Shanghai, ChinaMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 7:02 pm Reply
    • Thanks Carole!
      Your cat page is absolutely adorable — you cat-lady, you! I’ll send a photo along to your email. Thanks!

      July 6, 2015 at 7:15 pm Reply
  14. The cats look so health and in-charge of their lives! Amazing how they’ve learned to adapt and survive.
    Irene S. Levine recently posted..New trends at the Summer Fancy Food ShowMy Profile

    July 6, 2015 at 8:57 pm Reply
  15. Love the feline angle on Ephesus. We typically feel so terrible when we see so many feral cats while traveling but I love that you see them as keepers of the ruins. Makes me feel a bit better about them being there.
    Sue Reddel recently posted..Fabulous Hotel Amenities Around The WorldMy Profile

    July 8, 2015 at 10:08 pm Reply
    • Hi Sue,
      So true. While traveling you see so many stray animals. I always feel like they get along just fine — they have their routines and reliable places for food such as tourist areas or garbage spots. In particular, the cats at Ephesus were amazingly healthy! When I pet one, the long-standing dirt was evident but otherwise they were the picture of health.
      Thank you for adding your viewpoint to this post — I love to hear about your travel impressions!

      July 9, 2015 at 8:04 am Reply
  16. I really enjoyed how you told the story of Turkey’s ancient city of Ephesus by weaving in the cats. Very creative and interesting!

    July 11, 2015 at 4:19 am Reply

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