Rome has many famous historical squares but Largo di Torre Argentina is particularly unique for many reasons. It is probably best known as the spot where Julius Caesar is believed to have been killed in 44 BC. Here lie the remains of the ancient Pompey’s Theatre and several Roman temples, the vestiges of which now lie scattered in a haphazard collection of ruins. All very impressive; but look carefully among the fallen columns and ancient broken stones and you will be sure to see a cat wandering among the ruins or stretched out for a nap in the sun. This archeological site is also the home of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a somewhat unlikely but regal abode for Rome’s stray cats. The square is now probably more famous for its feline inhabitants than its historical or archeological significance, as the cat sanctuary has become part of Rome’s tourist circuit. Torre Argentina’s cats have even become celebrities of sorts, having starred in a BBC documentary.
Rome’s vagrant kitties seem to have a penchant for ancient monuments: the Coliseum and the Forum are other preferred feline squats. In 1991, Rome’s city council declared the cats living in these three historical sites to be part of the city’s ‘bio-heritage’. According to Italian law, five or more cats living in a natural urban habitat cannot be relocated. These kitties have managed to reclaim these ancient spaces as their own!
Cats have been in residence at Largo di Torre Argentina since the late 1920s when the site was first excavated by archeologists. The square seems to be the perfect home for them. The sunken, excavated pit of the archeological site is located in an enclosure below street level, offering the cats protection from the city streets. The scattered ancient stones and fallen columns provide a lot for these curious felines to explore and offer the perfect place for a game of hide-and-seek.
Though the cats had already made the square their home back in the 1920s, the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary was only formally set up in 1993 by two cat lovers, Silvia Viviani and Lia Dequel. With the help of an animal protection organization based in the UK, these two women were able to slowly but surely set up a sanctuary which provides food, shelter and healthcare to the square’s growing population of cats.
Today, close to two hundred cats take shelter here in the middle of historic Rome, looked after by a team of volunteers. There is an indoor area located under the street level where the cats can catch up on sleep, play on the special platforms and get food, treatment and cuddles from the sanctuary’s many cat lovers who volunteer their time here. A team of volunteer veterinarians provide health care to the cats. New arrivals are spayed or neutered and tested for communicable diseases. The sanctuary is entirely volunteer-run and does not receive any public support. The proceeds from the on-site gift shop and donations made by visitors and cat lovers keep the sanctuary going.
Visitors are welcome to drop into the sanctuary, walk among the ruins and watch the cats at play, browse in the charity cat shop and even take a cat home through the adoption service.
To learn more about the cats of Torre Argentina, visit their website: www.romancats.com
Location: Look for the metal staircase leading down to the Cat Sanctuary at Largo di Torre Argentina, on the corner of Via Florida and Via Arenula.
Visiting hours: Noon to 6pm daily, including weekends and holidays.