Street art

In search of Tombili – Istanbul’s famous cat

2 November, 2016

Calling all kitty lovers! Pack your bags and book your tickets to Istanbul because Turkey’s second city (also known as ‘Catstantinople’) is absolutely heaving with friendly, fussable cats.

Three kittens hanging out in Istanbul

Owned by no one and everyone, thousands of strays are fed and cared for by kind locals who leave out little piles of cat food, share their leftovers, and even put up rickety cat houses to offer a bit of shelter during the chilly winter months.

A metal cat house with a cute painted cat on the side, Istanbul

However, one cat stands out as being Istanbul’s most famous:

Istanbul's famous chilled out cat Tombili

That’s Tombili, the laid-back feline who shot to internet stardom in a thousand different memes.

When she passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, the local community was so heartbroken that residents petitioned the council for a fitting memorial to their beloved cat… and they got one. On World Animal Day 2016, a local artist unveiled a bronze statue of Tombili in the very spot she struck her world-famous pose.

I don’t know why I loved the idea of this so much, but as soon as I read about it I knew we had to go and make a pilgrimage… and have a thoroughly cat-themed jaunt around the city while we were at it.

One of Istanbul's many cats

Finding Tombili was trickier than we thought. We knew from news reports that she hung out in the Ziverbey area on the Asian side of the city, but it took some NCIS-style sleuthing to triangulate the location based on both the takeaway sign visible in the background of certain photos, and a screenshot from Google Streetview that captured the living and breathing Tombili in happier times.

And yes, we did take this alarmingly seriously…

A cat snoozes on a bench in Istanbul

But the planning paid off – one tram, a boat and a ridiculously long walk later, and there she was:

The Tombili memorial statue strikes the same lounging pose as the famous meme

Standard photo in this situation, I think:

Me and Tombili

Seeing Tombili memorialised as street art was a treat to see, but Ziverbey can be a long way to schlep if you’re travelling all the way over from the European side. That’s why you should pair any visit to see the T-cat with a trip to Özgürlük Parki – otherwise known as ‘The Cat Park’ – just a 20-minute walk away.

The park is gorgeous – it’s huge, leafy and really well-kept, and has lots of different areas to explore. It also holds a market during weekends, has an on-site cafe and plenty of child (and big kid) friendly areas. But the best thing, of course, is that it’s absolutely full of cats.

We met this little guy as soon as we walked through the gate:

Instanbul kitten drinking cream in Ozgurluk Park

And then this one:

A white cat with green eyes meows at the camera in Istanbul

We saw lazy cats:

A white and ginger cat snoozes in the sunshine in Istanbul

And cats that like tummy rubs:

A cat enjoying a tummy rub in Istanbul

And this cat, who was clearly channelling Tombili:

Cat lounges in Istanbul

We ended up calling her Cat-Parrot, because as soon as I gave her a little scratch behind the ear, she CLIMBED UP ME and happily settled on my shoulder.

A black stray cat sits on my shoulder in Istanbul

To round off our day, we wandered the back alleys of Kadiköy in search of one of the colourful ‘bear-cats’ painted by Istanbul street artist Kedicizdim (the name literally translates to: “I drew a cat”). We failed to find one, but we did come across this – maybe it’s from him too? Or maybe it’s the work of… a COPYCAT?? Get it?

Graffiti cat compete with fangs and chain

The work of a copycat! No? Never mind…

A cat snoozes on packs of water bottles, Istanbul


Ok, I’ll admit it – I concocted this entire day out based on a tenuous link to street art and a strong desire to play with as many cats as possible… and I think you’ll agreed I succeeded.

But when you’ve had your fill of the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Galata Tower, and all the other amazing sights in Istanbul, why not do the same too?

How to find Tombili:

Take the ferry to Kadiköy from Eminönü or Karaköy. Walk to the bus stop and then take the 20K bus towards Kazim Karabekir, getting off at Ziverbey. Walk to Güleç Çikmazi, and just around the corner, you’ll see the step and the statue.

OR download the Trafi app to find the best route for you based on where you are and what time of day it is (recommended).

How to find Özgurluk Parki, AKA, The Cat Park:

You can walk to The Cat Park from the Tombili statue like we did, or use the Trafi app to get public transport as far as possible.

Don’t forget to pet the cats!

Want more street art?

There’s street art all over the city, but if you’re keen to gain some insider knowledge, try the Street Art Istanbul app. We couldn’t find the Kedicizdim artwork – it may have been painted over – but we did come across this piece also featured in the app and it was interesting to learn a bit more about the artist, Mert, and where you can see more of his illustrations.

Colourful deer street art by Mert, Istanbul

That’s it! Now, go forth and find street art / visit a legend / pet some cats…

How to find Tombili


  • Reply Jackie Buckle 28 May, 2017 at 08:43

    Hi Jenny, Thanks so much for this post – I enjoyed reading it and it is beautifully illustrated. I am researching a book on pet statues and memorials and wondered if I could use your photo of Tombili? I would, of course, fully credit you and link to your site if you wished. Would this be OK? If so, would you happen to have a high res version you could email me. Many thanks Jackie (London)

  • Reply Henrique Valle 14 July, 2018 at 09:48

    Thank you so much for putting this page together. I have just been to the site where the statue is supposed to be but there’s a construction site, so, no Tombili anymore but the street is full of awesome felines ;)

  • Reply Sally Mehmet 9 April, 2019 at 20:09

    Read your interesting post, so yesterday we went on a mission to find the statue of Tombili, when we arrived at the destination we were told the statue is no longer there they are doing renovation in the area & it been removed. But we did go on to find the Cat park Thank You!

  • Reply Viktoria 3 April, 2021 at 14:43

    I went to see Tombili in March 2021 but at the site where she was supposed to be she was not to be found and locals told us she was removed:(

  • Reply Seth Parent 4 January, 2023 at 11:28

    It’s always heartwarming to hear about animals that become beloved members of their community and Tombili definitely seems to have touched the hearts of many people in Istanbul.

    I especially loved the part about Tombili’s relaxed, laid-back personality and how he became known for lounging on the sidewalk. It’s a reminder that sometimes the simple things in life, like lounging in the sun, can bring so much joy.

    It’s tragic that Tombili has passed away, but it’s clear that he left a lasting impact on those who knew him. It’s great to see that a statue has been erected in his honor and I’m sure it will be a beloved gathering place for cat lovers and Tombili fans for years to come.

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