Meet The Origins Of The Angora Cat

angora cat old draw
Old draw from an early angora cat

The Origins

Many different theories have been developed about the origins of the Turkish Angora and longhair cats more in general. Nowadays most experts agree that this type of cat came from the southern parts of Russia (Chorason, Caucasia) and was brought from there between the 9th to 11th Century to Persia, India and Asia Minor, that is now called Turkey. The longhair factor was probably given to these cats by the Felis silvestris caucasis. Later they were mixed with the Felis silvestris lybica and the Felis silvestris ocreata. They never mixed with the Felis silvestris silvestris and for that reason, they maintained their moderate oriental appearance. In these regions, many types of (semi)longhair cats developed. In the middle of the 19th century, one still talks about the cat of the Crimean, of the Himalayan, of Persia, of Tobolsk, etc., etc. They all looked very much alike and it needed an expert to tell the differences.

Around the 10th century the Vikings, who frequently terrorized these regions, probably brought some of these cats back with them on their ships. They are most likely the ancestors of the present Norwegian Forest Cats. The Maine Coon is the result of a mix between imported Angoras and the much larger house cats from that region. The story that these Angoras once belonged to the unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette of France is probably just a nice story, but not a very likely one!

There are reports that in the 13th century in the city of Ardebil (Russia) once a year people gathered with their most beautiful longhair cats to something like a cat show. Unfortunately, until now no further and more detailed information about these fairs could be found.

 The 17th Century

The Italian aristocrat and traveller Pietro della Valle made from 1614-1626 a long journey through Turkey, Persia and India. He wrote his adventures in 54 long letters to his friend Dr. Mario Schipano in Naples. These letters were later published as Viaggi in Turchia, Persia ed India Descritti in 54 Lettere Famigliari. From this letters, we know that during his stay in Isfahan in Persia in 1620 he encountered, what he calls a “striking” species of cat. He gives a detailed description, more or less the first standard. From this description, we know that they were certainly not fragile, slim animals but that they were of the same size as the common house cats of those days. However they were in appearance elegant due to their beautiful long fur, especially round the neck and on their tails, that looks like “one of a squirrel.

He chooses 4 couples to send to Italy in advance with the intention to breed with them later. These cats probably arrived in Naples early 1621. Regarding his later breeding activities, nothing is known.

According to Moncrif (see 18th century) a certain Monsieur Ménard took in the first quarter of the 17th century one of these cats (or one of their offspring) to France. This cat was not white, but according to a sonnet this Ménard wrote on the occasion of her death, black and white: J’aurai toujours dans mon mémoir cette peluche blanche et noir (I will always remember this fur, black and white).

A contemporary of Della Valle was Nicolas-Claude Fabri, seigneurde Peiresc. This great French scholar was, among a great variety of other things, very interested in cats, that he loved dearly. To keep away the mice he even kept them in his study. In the early 17th century he got his first cats from Angora, that were at his request – he heard from them probably through Della Valle – send to him. At his manor Belgentier near Toulouse he bred with them with an interest almost Mendelian in the results One of his first kittens he presented to his friend the Cardinal de Richelieu. Her introduction at the French court was thus an easy one. Angoras were in those days extremely rare and accordingly astronomic prices were paid. Peiresc sometimes trades his kittens for rare documents and in one known case for some antique bronze vases.

The 18th Century

In the early 18th century, in 1727 François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif published his book Les Chats later sometimes called Histoire des chats. In this book, he also describes the beauty of the Asian Cats, as he calls them. He gives us a detailed pedigree of the offspring of Brinbelle, a female cat that arrived from Constantinople in France in 1699. About the character of her grandchildren, he says: Their character is most amiable, though cool enough at first acquaintance. They are not at their ease except with their true friends, but they have the most engaging manners.

He also mentions the Italian traveller Pietro della Vallle but dates the arrival of the 8 cats that this man sends to Rome 100 years too early in 1521. Later François-Louis LeClerck, Comte de Buffon, will copy this information in his Histoire Naturelle of 1756. Hardly anybody remembered Moncrif, but Buffon became a famous man. This is the reason why so many still date the arrival of longhair cats in Western-Europe in the 16th Century instead of the 17th Century by quoting the information he has given.

On many paintings from this period we see the Angora portrayed. Sometimes as a companion on a portrait (mostly of children) but also as the main subject, as in the famous example above. The cat shown here is white, but on several other paintings blue with white, black, red, etc. Angoras can be seen and were obviously equally popular. Famous fans of the Angora cats in those days were for example Louis XV and his wife Maria Lesczynska and his successor Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The Turkish Angora, as we call her nowadays, was the status symbol of the 18th century and one paid fortunes for them! The said Buffon calls these cats: Felis catus angorensis. So the Angora became together with the Chartreux the only two species, apart from the house cats, that were called Felis catus domesticus, that had their own official Latin name!

The 19th Century

In the 19th century, the first Angora’s also came to the USA. Again these cats were only for the very, very rich! Prices up to $3.500 and more were paid for them, a fortune in those days! Contrary to the situation nowadays one paid rather more for an adult cat, that had proven to be a fine example, then for a kitten that still had to grow into maturity.

One of the most famous cats from this period was Napoleon the Great, born in 1888 in France at the Château de Fontainebleauwere he was bred by a French nobleman. He won 9 years old at the first Boston Catshow in 1897 the silver cup for the best cat of this exhibition. His owner, Mrs. Weed, was offered the sum of $4.000 for him but refused this offer. By the way, Napoleon was orange (probably red) and not white! The idea that Turkish Angoras should always be, or preferably be white is something that dates from the early 20th Century. White cats have through the ages always been regarded as rare – what they are – but other colours were equally appreciated in earlier days.

In 1887, the British Cat Fancy decided that from that time onwards all (semi) longhaired cats should be called Persians or Longhairs and a standard for this new breed was made. In this way, the Angora was more or less abolished and consequently forgotten. The fact is that the Persian cats of today have little to do with the Cat of Persia and the Angoras from before 1887. They are a completely new breed in which many aspects and characteristics of the other, then known breeds, were incorporated.

The 20th Century

In the 1930’s the Turkish Government realised that their national breed almost became extinct. A rescue operation was set up. From all over the country Angoras (or cats that looked like them) were gathered in the Ankara Zoo. This was not an easy task as reports tell us that in 1966 there were not even 30 Angoras present in that Zoo.

From that time onwards, however, the interest in this ancient breed started to grow again and many cats were exported to Europe and the USA. They formed the solid base of what is now a continuously in popularity growing breed. Unfortunately, the Turkish have always preferred the white ones and completely neglected the coloured Angoras. So did in the beginning major organisations like the CFA and the FIFe. That has changed now and the coloured Angoras have by now taken their rightful place among the most beautiful animals of this earth.


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