Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cats of Cairo: Egypt's Enduring Legacy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cats of Cairo: Egypt's Enduring Legacy

Article excerpt

Cats of Cairo: Egypt's Enduring Legacy

Pat McDonnell Twair is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles.

Books have been written about cats since writing was invented. A case in point is the hieroglyphs and drawings on tombs of ancient Egyptians, for whom the word for cat was "miu." Cats were revered as sacred animals in Pharaonic Egypt for a very practical reason: they killed mice and rats who infested granaries. Centuries later, after conversion to Islam, Egyptians still have a great affection for the cat, pronounced "qitt" in Arabic.

Cats most likely were domesticated in Egypt as humans began engaging in agriculture. Over the millennia, they've coexisted with people who've lived along the Nile, particularly in Cairo. It was this interaction between felines and humans that caught the attention of lifelong cat lover Lorraine Chittock when she arrived in the Egyptian capital as a photographer for Cairo Today.

The presence of cats in every nook and souq of Cairo may be commonplace to Egyptians, but to Californian Chittock, it was phenomenal. These were not the coddled kitties of the West, but cunning mousers who warmed themselves in winter atop hoods of newly parked cars or by soaking up sun rays streaming through the domes of mosques. In the summer, the ubiquitous tabbies stretched and reclined on ancient monuments, enjoyed the breeze on sailing feluccas or rubbed their backs against the legs of fish merchants.

As she began to photograph the self-absorbed Cairene cats in their favorite haunts, Chittock was struck by the irony that a plethora of published cat books focus on locales from Tibet to Hollywood, but no such tome exists for the place where cats were first celebrated.

Chittock then enlisted the expertise of Islamic scholar Annemarie Schimmel to write an introduction on the role cats have played in Egyptian mythology, history, culture and Muslim traditions.

In ancient Egypt, Dr. Schimmel writes, Ra, the highest deity, was sometimes addressed as the "Supreme Tomcat." The Book of the Dead equated the cat with the sun. When a pet cat died in a wealthy family, it was embalmed and buried in the cat cemetery of Bubastis. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.