07 March 2012

Cypriot Cats

Driving between the Kourion Ruins and Kolossi Castle, we spotted this Cat Sanctuary. Some animals rushed the gate to meet us and then played too cool to look at our cameras, as cats do. Others continued to laze in the sunshine on the hot-plate concrete of their lot. Signs implored our help, in first person. "Help us!" The urgent tones sort of belittled their sanctity. Stumbling upon this wasn't as surprising as you'd think. We were actually more surprised we hadn't seen one yet. You see, Cypriots are real cat people.
The reason for the Cypriot love of cats runs much deeper than an affinity for fur and whiskers. In 2001, an archeological finding proved that Cypriots were the first civilization to domesticate cats - 9,500 years ago, before the Egyptians. Owner and feline were found buried together in an ancient tomb - cuddling. Cats run around everywhere in Cyprus. Here, one little guy pokes his head out in Agios Athanasios. Earlier, we'd seen the Fat Cat of the village back a few smaller kitties into a corner. When he walked away, I thought I spotted some sort of growth or tumor dangling down from his orange fur. Turns out, I'd just never seen a male cat in tact before. I'm American - we like them spayed and neutered.
Recently, Cyprus has tried to attain recognition for two breeds of cat that they claim are indigenous to the country. Named "St. Helen" and "Aphrodite," the breeds have become another conflict point between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Both want to call them their own. Since both cats are said to be evolved from an ancient Turkish breed, the Northerners have a point - but efforts to mix them with modern Turkish cats and present the offspring as "Cypriot" too seems a little disingenuous. The bottom line is, for a culture so proud of cats' place in their history (and their place in the history of cats) an internationally recognized breed would mean so much.Down the road from the Cat Sanctuary was a sign for St. Nicholas of the Cats Monastery. The ancient site is said to have brought cats from Egypt thousands of years ago (just as St. Helen's namesake did) to fight off snakes. We skipped the opportunity, already on the way to a castle and feeling like we see enough cats in our day to day life. Every evening, no matter where we stay, a cat tries to come in through the door with us. They are at our feet under outdoor tables. They screech in a brawl, startlingly, at night. Plus - when we went to India years ago, Merlin and his brother were warned that a visit to the Monkey Monastery required a stick to fend them all off. We figured that a visit to the Cat Monastery would probably be better with a spritz bottle in tow.

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