Nighttime in Rome is magical. The city is alive with bustling cafes, brilliantly lit ancient ruins, and streets full of locals and visitors out for a passeggiata, or nightly stroll. Rome is a walkable city, and while exploring on foot you will pass many ancient Roman sites that are below street level and under archaeological excavation. One such site is the historical complex of Largo di Torre Argentina. And tucked away in a corner of this complex is a unique and unusual safe haven: a cat sanctuary.
The Gatti Di Roma Sanctuary
A clowder of cats began to take refuge in Largo di Torre Argentina around 1929, when the archaeological excavation of the area’s four temples began. For more than 60 years, the cats were cared for by cat lovers called gattare who formed a loosely organized group dedicated to the strays’ well-being and protection. Partially hidden from view, and below street level, the cats and their offspring gathered and grew. In 1993, the Gatti di Roma, or Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, became an organized and registered safe haven for abandoned felines. At the Gatti di Roma, the cats are loved and fed and receive veterinary care, including spaying and neutering.
The stray cats of Rome are lucky to have a sanctuary like the Gatti di Roma. As new cats are abandoned, they are named, documented, and given medical care.
A cat population can quickly get out of control. A cat can have three or more litters each year, and there are four kittens on average per litter. One cat can give birth to 120 kittens in her lifetime. Many mitigating factors can reduce this number, but even at a reduced rate, it is overwhelming population growth. Spaying and neutering the cats at the Gatti di Roma is key to controlling the population. Through diligent work and fundraising efforts, the gattare have been able to spay and neuter approximately 3,000 cats.
Many of the cats at the Gatti di Roma were abandoned at the sanctuary by individuals unable to care for them. You can adopt a cat — or two — from the Gatti di Roma. Many of the felines are available for adoption and would make wonderful companions. The sanctuary also offers a distance adoption option, where donors support the unadoptable population through monthly or one-time donations.
The Archaeological Significance Of Largo Di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina is not your average setting for a cat sanctuary. The archaeological site’s history dates to the early days of the Roman Empire, when the site was part of the city center of the ancient Campus Martius. The ruins consist of the Curia of Pompey, the Theater of Pompey, and four temples. The temple remains are dedicated to Juturna, the goddess of fountains; Fortuna, the goddess of fortune; Feronia, the goddess of fertility; and the Lares Permarini, or the guardian deities. The Gatti di Roma staff members care for the stray cats among the temple remains.
Currently, Largo di Torre Argentina can only be viewed from the street level. Years of excavation work has left the historic site in shambles. After a successful cooperative venture rehabilitating Rome’s Spanish Steps, Bulgari has stepped in to aid in the restoration of Largo di Torre Argentina. With Bulgari’s assistance, the site is expected to open before the year’s end. The site upgrade will include walking paths that allow the general public to tour the ancient ruins. Bulgari sells fine jewelry and luxury goods, and their philanthropic efforts are well known throughout Europe.
The Julius Caesar Connection
Largo di Torre Argentina is famous for more than its cats. When Julius Caesar proclaimed himself dictator for life, many of the Roman senators and magistrates were not happy. The shift in power, which gave Caesar king-like control, was not popular. It is now believed that Caesar was assassinated when he arrived at the Theater of Pompey for a Senate session.
Researchers believe that on March 15 in 44 B.C. at the Curia of Pompey in Largo di Torre Argentina, Roman senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus ambushed and stabbed Caesar 23 times. Since the third century, the Ides of March (March 15) has symbolized bad fortune.
Strays Among Ruins
The cats of Rome, however, are lucky to have found their way to Largo di Torre Argentina. As the site renovation nears completion, they will have to learn to share their ancient Roman ruins with curious tourists.
Sadly, cats are still being abandoned at the site. This is one time the old saying “When in Rome, do what the Romans do” is not a great suggestion. However, I do recommend that you walk down Via Arenula to view the temples and the restoration project. You might just discover more than ancient ruins. Perhaps you will leave with a new feline fur baby — a living, purring souvenir!
You can learn more about each individual cat by following Gatti di Roma’s Facebook group.
For more exciting things to see and do in Rome, see this page.