Anyone who has visited Greece or Cyprus knows that both beautiful countries are home to many, many cats. Yet some people may be unaware that there are two distinct cat breeds, the Aegean cat and the Cyprus cat, native to Greece and Cyprus.
The Greek islands are particularly known for their adorable four-footed residents. Cats can be seen all across the Greek isles but are most commonly spotted lounging around fishing boats down at the local port, hoping to secure a nice seafood meal.
Most visitors to the Greek islands are shocked when they discover how sweet and friendly the majority of cats there truly are. That’s because they’re likely Aegean cats, the only breed of cat native to Greece and the Greek islands.
Aegean cats are known to be playful, vocal, friendly, and very loving. They’re particularly comfortable around water and love to go fishing.
The Aegean cat breed in Greece is thought to be one of the oldest in the world
In terms of appearance, they are usually bicolor or—more rarely—tricolor, and one of their colors is almost always white. The most common color combinations are white and black, white and ginger, and white and tabby.
Aegean cats are best known for their beautiful, piercing eyes. Their large eyes are almond shaped and often a striking shade of green, yellow, or blue.
Believed to be descendants of the ancient cats that inhabited the Greek islands throughout antiquity, Aegean cats have bred naturally without human intervention for thousands of years.
This breed is thought to be one of the oldest domesticated breeds in the world.
This natural breeding process means that these cats are extremely resistant to the genetic diseases that are more commonly found in cat breeds created through human intervention.
Although kept as pets, many Aegean cats are feral. Regardless of whether they have a home or not, felines of this breed are beloved in Greece.
Aegean cats have medium-sized paws that have adapted well to grasping at fish swimming along in the sea, and their fur can be short yet full in the summer and a bit longer and thicker in the winter.
Although common in Greece, especially on the islands, Aegean cats are a particularly rare breed outside of the country.
Despite the fact that they are a well-documented breed with a long history, the Aegean cat is not yet recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association.
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
Cyprus cats, also known as St. Helen’s cats, are a breed of domesticated felines found on the island nation of Cyprus.
The breed has an illustrious history. According to historical sources, St. Helen, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, brought the forefathers of the breed to the island herself.
It is said that St. Helen filled her ship up with cats from Egypt—although some sources say Palestine —and took them with her to Cyprus to help curb the snake problem there in the fourth century.
The cats were brought to the Monastery of St. Nicholas, where the venomous snake population was extremely large and threatening. According to legend, the cats were called to hunt snakes on the monastery grounds by a bell that was rung each day.
The cat population at the monastery, which is now a convent, is still vibrant. Greek poet Georgos Seferis wrote a poem about the felines there, entitled “The Cats of St. Nicholas.”
There is actually archaeological evidence of cats living alongside humans in Cyprus in antiquity although they are likely not the ancestors of the Cyprus cat breed.
Excavations at a Neolithic site called Shillourokampos in Cyprus showed that ancient people there truly cared for their feline companions and even dug out a grave with care for their pet cat.
The Cypriot breed is linked to other feline groups in Egypt and Palestine, so the story of St. Helen likely has some truth to it.
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 be found in a variety 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 internationally recognized.
It is already recognized by the World Cat Federation under the name “Aphrodite’s Giant.”