Italy Roundtable: Caesar’s Cats

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This is a confession that I didn’t think I would make on Italy Explained. I have an Instagram account dedicated to my cats.

Yes, really.

I adore cats. When I thought about the theme of PETS for this month’s Italy Roundtable, my first thought was the unpleasing fact that many Italians leave their pets behind when they go on vacation. Although it seems less common now, it is still a sad fact that it does happen. It’s stressful to think about it (or even talk about it), so I didn’t want dwell on it.

I will instead tell you about a cool organization in Rome, which not only encourages rescue animals but also does it from its headquarters located in an ancient Roman monument.

Cats don’t care about history.

If they were interested enough in history to pay attention, they wouldn’t forget that ancient Egyptians worshipped cats. They worshiped them. You might believe that modern-day housecats think they are worshipped because of their cocky demeanor. Another possibility is that many stray cats living in Rome chose one of the important ancient sites of the city as their home.

Largo di Torre Argentina can be found in Rome’s central city, halfway between Piazza Venezia or Campo de’ Fiori. This square is surrounded by an excavation of ancient Roman ruin, which lies about 20 feet below the street. It has the appearance of a zoo exhibit, with railings running along the sidewalk that allow visitors to stop and take in the ruins from the top.

There are four Roman temples left standing, some columns and walls still visible, as well the Theatre of Pompey. This 1st century BCE theater is most likely related to Julius Caesar. Caesar was assassinated just outside the Theatre of Pompey by several Roman senators.

Yes, you will see flowers (still!) when you go to the Roman Forum. Caesar’s remains were left behind, but this is at the spot where his body was cremated. He was killed in Largo di Torre Argentina.


A bunch of cats.

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary has been caring for stray cats since 1993.

The cat sanctuary’s work was done underground for many years. Volunteers operated out of a damp, cold area below the street and did so without official permissions from city officials.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary was home to about 90 cats at the time. Over the years, the number of resident cats has increased to around 150. Although the shelter is not officially recognized, the facilities have been greatly improved. They are still below the street and in a cramped area with low ceilings. I am only 5’2” so I had to be careful not to crack my head while I walked.

The shelter was threatened with closure in 2012 but the public supported the sanctuary so much that it was eventually closed. Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary does not have any official protections in place to prevent such an event from happening in the future.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is a wonderful sanctuary for cats. They take care of cats who don’t have homes and make sure they are healthy and happy. It’s also a more organized version the long-standing Italian tradition, “gattare,” which is “cat ladies”.

You can probably picture what an Italian gattara looks like. The neighborhood gattara, an older woman, is someone who gives out food each day (or almost every day) to the homeless cats in her area. Yes, it sounds casual. There are volunteer programs in some cities to train new gattare in their communities, as well as networks of gattare that ensure the entire town is covered.

It’s tradition, as I just said.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is a great fit for this tradition. It also ensures that cats receive any required healthcare, are spayed or neutered, as well as – and here’s what’s even cooler – adoption.

You can adopt a cat in a Roman ruin shelter.

Many cats are available for adoption at any time. For those who do not live in Rome, the shelter offers “Distant Adoption” which allows you to support their work remotely. You can also find information on sending general contributions and how to buy something from Cat Shop. The wall has a whiteboard that lists the new additions and the adoptions. I was pleased to see that the latter column contained more names than the first.

Every potential adopter is prescreened, and then the volunteer walks them through the entire process, including helping to select the right cat. This is done to ensure that the cat and human match is good. The shelter’s small rooms were packed with people looking to adopt a cat. I was thrilled to see so many people there when I visited it last time. The main room also had many tables that were covered with cat toys, mugs, bags, calendars, and other items. All of these items are for the shelter’s benefit.

Yes, even the cats were sat on the tables and performed important quality control checks on the cat beds.

To be honest, even considering the historical significance of the archaeological excavations at Largo di Torre Argentina, I wouldn’t have linger at the site – or visited the site multiple times – if it weren’t for the cats. It is so wonderful to see the work of Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary continue and to hear about the success of the adoption program. I hope that you will consider supporting them and visit the cats (and the ruin, of course) the next time your are in Rome.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

  • Every day, open from 12:00 – 6:00 p.m.
  • Enter at Via Florida corner and Via di Torre Argentina corner (look for signs and follow the steps)
  • Tel: +39 6 68805611, Mobile: +39 3 340 9862294
  • Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Italy Roundtable: Other Voices

What pets are my fellow bloggers writing about this month, and what do they think? Follow me to each of the links and leave comments. Please share these posts with your friends and join us next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.

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9 Responses to “Italy Roundtable Caesar’s Cats”.

  • Pete R has the following:

    This is our favorite round-table topic. We also have a soft spot in our hearts for cats and love to take photos of them whenever we travel. It is wonderful to see that these cats are being taken such good care of.

    Although I don’t know how you select your contributors to these topics, I would love to share our post about cats in Italy with you.

    https://www.ouritalianromance.com/cats-italy-purrfect-story

  • It is a beautiful place. When we lived there, we passed it almost every week and stopped often to see the kitties. They are so dedicated. We also came across “gattare” within our neighborhood. One was very young, maybe forty-ish.

    We would often see cats who had lost their “home” during the summer while their owners were away. Even a gattara can need a break from time to time, but there were some wards that were closed in August. The cats would wait for the shop to open. I was able to help them sometimes. I would bring food and water for them during their vacation.

  • I went to visit my cousins who live in Abruzzo’s mountains. They would feed no less than 20 cats that lived in their mountain town. They would often come by. It was great to see them eating the leftover pasta.

  • This is so cute! I’d heard of this cat sanctuary in Rome but had never been to it. It was great to learn more. I will definitely be back to Rome next time.

  • Suzanne Toll says:

    Largo Argentina has been a place I’ve visited many times. I was initially interested in seeing the ruins and picturing how they looked on the Ides March 44 BCE. I was a Latin teacher for many decades. I love cats and became a fan of them. Back in the ’90s I made a single visit to the area and climbed down the brick steps looking for someone who had left pasta for the cats. Although I felt some relief knowing that they were being fed, the area smelled strongly of urine. It was almost unbearable. That place was a source of distress for me. It is hard to express how happy I am to find this post and to learn about the organized support the cats now receive. Around the same time, I visited the Protestant Cemetery and made a donation to support the care of the cats. It was done by a group of English women from the nearby Pyramid of Sestius. It is possible that this work is still being done. This article was informative, well-written, and interesting.

    • Jess has the following:

      Thank you so much for sharing the article. It helped to ease my lingering anxiety! It’s a joy to go to Rome every time I visit, even though it has nothing to do the ruins. Next time, I will have to try and find the cat-caretakers of the Protestant Cemetery.