As you probably know cats in Rome are very popular and they have always found shelter amongst the ancient city ruins. They are also protagonists of numerous postcards depicting them sitting on stumps of old Roman columns, cat napping on the foot of an emperor’s statue, or just lounging near the Colosseum.
And, in addition, in Rome stray cats have an ancient temple-complex all to themselves.
Known as Largo di Torre Argentina, this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts in 1929, revealing four Republican victory-temples that lie sunken about 6 meters below modern street level. In addition to the remains of four different temples, Torre Argentina also contains part of the famous portico of Pompey, upon whose steps dictator Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed in 44 BCE. Over 20 centuries have passed since then, but Caesar’s spirit surely lives on in some of more or less aristocratic cats that rule over their temples with pride.
Since the area was excavated, stray and abandoned felines took refuge in the protected area below street level, and the “gattare” – cat ladies – began lovingly feeding and caring for them. One of the most popular among cat lovers was the great Italian filmstar Anna Magnani. While working at Teatro Argentina, close to the ruins, the actress would spend her breaks feeding her four legged friends. This film legend, famous for her heart-tugging performances, died in the 1960’s.
Nelson, a one-eyed Torre Argentina cat was the main character in an award winning book by volunteer, Deborah D’Alessandro. It was published in 1999 and soon became a bestseller at the shelter, drawing attention to the plight of abandoned cats. At around the same time, Barbara Palmer, published “Cat Tales” and both books contributed to the growing reputation of the shelter.
Today, volunteers at Torre Argentina care for approximately 130 cats, many of which are disabled or suffer from illness.
Since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to a peak of 250, and the organization has ramped up with care for sick or wounded cats, as well as an extensive spay and neuter program to keep the four legged population in check.
Most of the permanent residents have special needs: they are blind or missing legs or came from abusive homes.
Every day a small crowd of tourists and not gathers here to watch the cats sunbathe on ancient pillars and steps. At first it may be hard to spot the cats, but once you start to see them, they are really everywhere!
Visitors can admire the felines and their ruins from street level, or head down the steps to the underground office to volunteer, visit the gift shop, donate, and even adopt cats.
A curiosity: there is another Roman cat sanctuary located at the Protestant Cemetery, near the Pyramid of Cestius. But this is another story!
Images from web – Google Research