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Istanbul Cats are calling you.
Amongst the flow of Istanbul’s busy Sultanahmet district is Les Arts Turcs, a haven of Turkish culture. I walked just up the road from Topkapi Palace then across the street from Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque to locate a white building above the Basilica Cistern. I entered a door hidden amongst the enticing restaurants and then up the winding stairs to ascend above the crowds through the doors of Les Arts Turcs and entered a calm, light-filled space of art and friendship.
Entering the office I was warmly greeted by Nurdogan Senguler and his team with one of the best glasses of tea I’d shared in Istanbul. A wonderful conversation struck up immediately about the beautiful city and the role that a strong artistic heritage played in its history. Even though I had other plans for the day, I found myself settling into their cozy purple wingback chair and taking in the magical view across the street. To the background sounds of the wind chime gently blowing in the breeze, the crowds dining below and the nearby fountain, I enjoyed tea and conversation and my hosts so much that I happily tossed my plans out the window and stayed for the afternoon to chat about art, history and life in general!
Many of my favourite moments in Istanbul were spent in their office. To call it an office is a misnomer. It’s an art gallery, a photography studio, a living room and a classroom. Walking around the office I admired items lovingly displayed; tiles from a recent tile-making class, paintings of tulips, a ney, a signed copy of a book from an author friends recent visit, a small Whirling Dervish statue. All relate to the services offered by Les Arts Turcs. But above all you can’t help but be drawn in by the photographs.
I asked Nurdogan about them and his enthusiasm burst forth again “Please, yes, these are from our Istanbul Photo Contest!” and he told me the story of each of them and why they are such wonderful examples of non-residents views of Istanbul. The Istanbul Photo Contest has been an annual event for Les Arts Turcs since 2007. It was designed to promote the beauty found in Istanbul’s daily life and is a tribute to its cultural history by sharing what a guest to this intriguing city has witnessed or experienced. There are a range of photos, from a patient group waiting for transit to laundry hanging in the ancient streets of Fener. Each photo tells a story placing you alongside its subject and Nurdogan is proud of what Istanbul’s visitors capture.
One of the many subjects people photograph are Istanbuls cats. Cats are omnipresent in this city full of heart. They are loved and taken care of by generous Istanbulites. You see them curled up in shop windows on the carpets, sleeping spread out on a bookstand in the sunshine and on docks throughout the city waiting for the fisherman to toss them fresh catches. All of these moments are captured by Istanbulites and tourists alike and then posted on “Istanbul Cats”, a Facebook fanpage created by Nurdogan. Since its inception in June 2013 it’s adorable collection of photos have over 25000 total “Likes” – quite a feat for a page dedicated to the furry, purring inhabitants of Istanbul!
I was fortunate to stay for three months in Istanbul and much of that time was happily spent at Les Arts Turcs. Whether participating in drum lessons, Sufi ceremonies or at the windows feeding the birds in the golden afternoon light with Nurdogan discussing photography and cats, then settling into an armchair to drink tea and talk of life a little more until we looked out to see the tourists crowds had thinned and the evening lights displayed Hagia Sofia and it’s fountain. The warmth and calm of Les Arts Turcs undoubtably stems from its founder and is a blessing to the big, busy, beautiful city of Istanbul. Nurdogan has turned Les Arts Turcs into a beautiful artists collective and meeting space designed to promote, support and communicate arts to visitors and residents of Istanbul. I consider myself fortunate to have spent time there and learned so much. Hopefully I’ll share a glass of tea with you there someday!
To join or view the “Istanbul Cats” Facebook Fanpage: