With thousands of Instagram followers and even a former U.S. president as a fan, Gli the cat is almost as famous as her home, Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia.
But with the decision to turn the museum into a mosque, Turks have been wondering whether Gli will have to move out — with the question cropping up daily on local news outlets and social media.
The beautiful European shorthair grey cat with shining green, crossed eyes, has become a favourite with visitors, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, who was filmed petting her during a trip in 2009.
Authorities have made clear Hagia Sophia can remain as her home.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan, told Reuters that Gli, as well as all other cats in the area, would stay where they were.
“That cat has become very famous, and there are others who haven’t become that famous yet. That cat will be there, and all cats are welcome to our mosques,” he said.
That’s bound to be welcome news to Umut Bahceci, a tour guide who started an Instagram account for Gli four years ago and now has more than 50,000 followers. The account is filled with photos of the cat, some tagged by the tourists who meet her. The bio reads, “ My land is HagiaSophia I’m a celebrity cat. They call me Union of Love. You can tag my beautiful pics.”
“I started noticing Gli every time I went (to Hagia Sophia) because Gli was posing for people like a model,” she told Reuters. “I get messages such as, ‘Gli, we will come to Istanbul to see you.’ This is truly a very nice feeling,”
The posts on Gli’s profile, over 600 of them, have playful messages, anecdotes, stories about her and random pieces of information. Her latest post read, “Hey Humans, Paw Lovers!! Scientists believe that the benefits of loving a cat may even extend to your health. Studies have shown that people are less likely to die of a heart attack. So.. What ever your mood is, think about me and make your mood higher.”
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Hagia Sophia was a Christian Byzantine cathedral for 900 years before it was seized by Ottoman conquerors and served as a mosque until 1934.
A court ruled this month that the building’s conversion to a museum then was unlawful. Erdogan immediately declared the building a mosque once more, with the first prayers to be held this Friday. Three imams were appointed for the Hagia Sophia’s first Muslim prayers in 86 years following its conversion back into a mosque.
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