Four green eyes stared out at me from a group of crooked white stones in Athen’s First Cemetery. The cats don’t move a muscle; they don’t run and hide and they don’t come any closer. They’re protecting their territory.
I have never seen as many stray cats in one place than by walking the streets of Athens. There are thousands. They sit atop stone walls, stalk for food outside of restaurants, sleep on tree branches and dart into broken windows of crumbling buildings.
Judging by the bowls of cat food and water sitting outside on so many door stoops around the city, they are, for the most part, quite well-loved and cared for by the locals who enjoy the company of these furry felines.
Restaurant owners seem to find them to be a nuisance to their business, so make sure you don’t encourage the cats to beg if you are eating outdoors as they will probably see you as a nuisance as well.
The cats can get feisty too when they have a piece of chicken dangling from the table. I have a thin scar on my ribs to prove it which I got from feeding a sweet but over excited seaside cat in Kardamyli while I was there to pick olives with my dad a few years ago.
As a cat lover, I found them a joy. They were around every corner, sitting on top of parked cars, creeping through the ancient ruins dotted across the city and curled up on chairs.
They were slinking down the sidewalks, snoozing in the grass, rolling in the dust and hiding behind rocks with wild eyes waiting to pounce on their dinner. Some were just watching the world go by.
Most of the cats were friendly or indifferent. Sometimes, if you crouch down, they’ll come closer and rub up against your hand or legs or they’ll plop down at your feet, bellies up.
Others were not so welcoming and due to their feral nature, they’d hiss and run away. Some were sadly a bit mangled with injuries or illness. Occasionally you’ll hear a good old cat fight in the night, the hissing and yowling of a scuffle over space. But as William S Burroughs said, “A cat’s rage is beautiful, burning with pure cat flame, all its hair standing up and crackling blue sparks, eyes blazing and sputtering.”
Sometimes they snuggled up in groups of two, keeping watch over each other; occasionally there would be a big pack of seven or eight in one spot. Mostly they were loners, as cats tend to be, fending for themselves in the urban wilds, keeping on ear perked up to listen for the barks of the evil stray dogs or the shuffle of mice in the grass.
There are quite a few charity groups in Athens that look out for their wellbeing though, like Nine Lives Greece, Greek Cat Rescue, Greek Cat Welfare Society and many others. They neuter strays, treat them if they are ill and set up adoption programs.
I didn’t spend too much time walking around the city as I was there for the TBEX travel blogger conference so these were just cats I photographed over the course of a few hours here and there and only the ones who kindly posed for me. There were hundreds more.
One of my favourite photos came when I stepped out for some fresh air and a short walk during one of the conference breaks. I turned the corner and there was a family of four sitting, just watching. As a took a few photos, they barely moved an inch.
Hope you enjoyed all of the cats. More on Athens soon!