An Aegean cat. The breed is beloved in Greece. Credit: Anna Wichmann/Greek Reporter
Anyone who has travelled to Greece or Cyprus knows that both nations are home to a large number of cats. However, some people may be unaware that Greece and Cyprus have two unique cat breeds, the Aegean cat and the Cyprus cat.
The lovely four-legged denizens of the Greek islands are well-known. Cats can be found all around Greece, but they are most usually seen lounging around fishing boats at the local port, hoping to snag a tasty seafood feast.
The majority of visitors visiting the Greek islands are surprised to learn how lovely and friendly the bulk of the cats are. That's because they're most likely Aegean cats, which are the only cat breed unique to Greece and its islands.
Aegean cats are noted to be active, loud, friendly, and highly loving. They are especially at ease around water and like fishing.
The Aegean cat breed in Greece is thought to be one of the oldest in the world
They are always bicolor or seldom tricolour in appearance, and one of their hues is almost always white. White and black, white and ginger, and white and tabby are the most popular colour combinations.
The most notable feature of Aegean cats is their stunning, penetrating eyes. Their almond-shaped eyes are generally a vibrant hue of green, yellow, or blue.
Aegean cats, said to be descendants of ancient cats who inhabited the Greek islands throughout antiquity, have mated spontaneously for thousands of years without human influence.
It's regarded to be one of the world's oldest domesticated breeds.
Because of this natural breeding process, these cats are highly resistant to hereditary illnesses that are more common in cat breeds developed through human intervention.
Many Aegean cats are feral, despite being treated as pets. Cats of this breed are adored in Greece, regardless of whether they have a home or not.
Aegean cats have medium-sized paws that have evolved well to gripping fish swimming in the sea, and their fur can be short and dense in the summer and longer and thicker in the winter.
Aegean cats are a rare breed outside of Greece, even though they are numerous in Greece, especially on the islands.
Despite being a well-documented breed with a long history, the Cat Fanciers Association has yet to recognise the Aegean cat.
This means that, if you’re enchanted by the Aegean cat, you’ll have to visit Greece and adopt one!
Cyprus Cats, the breed brought by St. Helen
A Cyprus cat lounging at Limassol Castle. This breed of feline has a long history in Cyprus. Credit: Citrus flower talk/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0
Cyprus cats, also known as St. Helen's cats, are a tamed cat breed found in Cyprus's island nation.
St. Helen, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, is said to have brought the breed's forebears to the island personally, according to historical traditions.
St. Helen is reported to have loaded her ship with cats from Egypt — though some sources indicate Palestine — and transported them to Cyprus in the fourth century to help with the snake problem there.
The cats were taken to the Monastery of St. Nicholas, where there was a big and dangerous venomous snake population. A bell that was rung every day, according to folklore, summoned the cats to hunt snakes on the monastery grounds.
The monastery, which is now a convent, has a thriving cat population. “The Cats of St. Nicholas,” a poem by Greek poet Georgos Seferis, was written on the felines there.
Although there is archaeological evidence of cats coexisting with people in ancient Cyprus, they are unlikely to be the forebears of the Cyprus cat breed.
Excavations at Shillourokampos, a Neolithic site in Cyprus, revealed that ancient people there genuinely cared for their feline companions, even digging a cemetery for their beloved cat.
Because the Cypriot breed is linked to feline groupings in Egypt and Palestine, the legend of St. Helen is likely true.
The Cyprus cat has very much in common with the Aegean cat breed of Greece.
Much like the Aegean cat, Cyprus cats have been left to breed naturally, so they have less inclination to genetic diseases.
Cyprus cats, unlike most Aegean cats, tend to be extremely energetic and athletic. They have a thick coat, which can be short or semi-long.
They are extremely playful and social, and love to be around humans. They’re also great hunters. Cyprus cats are commonly tabby with a mix of white, but can come in all colors, ranging from ginger to black.
Like Aegean cats, Cyprus cats are common in their native country but very rare in the rest of the world.
Currently, cat breeder and fancier organizations are beginning to develop qualifications for the breed in order for it to be recognized internationally.
It is recognized already by the World Cat Federation under the name “Aphrodite’s Giant.”