Known as the swimming cat for his propensity to play in bodies of water—or at least to enjoy splashing his paws in it—the Turkish Van is an ancient breed thought to have originated in the Lake Van area of Turkey. The mountainous and rugged landscape and cold climate of the region no doubt contributed to the development of the Van’s cashmerelike coat and solidly built body.
The Turkish Van is a natural breed and has probably existed in his homeland for centuries. Legend has it that he swam ashore from Noah’s ark, which tradition says landed on Mount Ararat in Turkey, not far from Lake Van.
How did the Van come by his spots of color? Both Jewish and Islamic tradition say that the cats were the recipients of a divine touch that imparted color to their formerly white coat. On the ark, a door slammed on the cat’s tail, turning it red, and God reached out and touched the cat on the head, leaving a spot where his hand rested. In the Islamic version, Allah touched the cat on the back, and the spot that is sometimes seen on a Turkish Van’s back is known as the thumbprint of Allah.
However he came to be, the Van has been attractive to many of Turkey’s invaders and visitors over the years. At least a few probably made their way to Europe as “souvenirs” in the past millennium.
It wasn’t until the 1970s, though, that a Turkish Van was first brought to the United States. The International Cat Association recognized the breed in 1985, and the Cat Fanciers Association began registering it in 1988. In Turkey, the cats are considered national treasures, and their preservation is overseen by the Turkish College of Agriculture and the Ankara Zoo.