Steeped in history, Rome has so many of the world’s most important monuments and stunning ancient structures. The Vatican, the Coliseum, the Parthenon, all draw millions of visitors every year, each trying to imagine the long-gone world that once stood where they stand, thousands of years later.
Among these countless relics of the past sits another ruin that also attracts an impressive throng of tourists. But the reason they are being drawn to the site isn’t purely for history’s sake. You see, the site is now home to an entirely new society, one the Romans never even dreamed about…
In the heart of Rome stands the ancient ruins of Largo Di Torre Argentina. Dating back to 4th century BC, the remains of the historic landmark include four impressive temples and the Theatre of Pompey.
Every day people come to visit the spectacular ancient Roman ruins. Tourists marvel at the construction that has withstood over two thousand years of elemental wear.
Helmut Reichelt / Flickr
But, the sheer age of the ruins isn’t the only draw for daily visitors. This place holds significance in Roman history because it was here the dictator Julius Caesar met his tragic end — betrayed and assassinated, on the steps of the portico of Pompey.
Ian Dolphin / Flickr
After excavation efforts in 1929 under Mussolini, the sunken ruins were revealed. From then on, visitors paid tribute and witnessed the important place where history changed so abruptly, but that’s not the only reason that tourists just can’t stay away…
Sblinn / Flickr
You see, after the excavation exposed the ruins, Rome’s notorious feral cat population eagerly claimed the spot as their own. And we’re not talking about just a few cats, either…
We’re talking upwards of 250 Italian felines! Mamma Mia! That’s a lot of kitties! Once the cats arrived, they stayed put, and it wasn’t just that they found the ruins comfortable. They had a good reason for staying close by.
While stray cats might be discouraged from visiting other historic monuments, that’s not the case here. Thanks to the efforts of the gattare, or, cat ladies, these furry critters are fed and cared for while they slink around the Torre Argentina.
Dreaming In Italian
But where did all these precious creatures come from? Stray cats are plentiful in every city, but Rome is truly littered with them. It’s due to Italy’s no-kill law for homeless cats. That leaves the streets filled with kitties with nowhere to turn.
Mark Mansfield / Flickr
So they flocked together and draped themselves over one of the most gruesome and famous landmarks in all of the city. Really, they were smarty cats: posting up in a historical landmark ensured people would take notice the helpless animals and step into action. It’s almost like they knew what they were doing.
Luke Hanna / Flickr
For over sixty years the street cats were fed, spayed and neutered by the gattare of Rome. But in 1993, two women stepped up to the plate to help get the population under control — and the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary was born!
Many of the kitty residents had been abandoned by their families. Some were disabled; others were sick or wounded. The volunteers at the sanctuary provided permanent residency for the most high-risk cats in an existing underground 100 sq. meter tunnel.
Still, caring for hundreds of high-risk cats cost a pretty penny. Renovating the tunnel and other expenses to keep the rescue going put enormous pressure on founder’s shoulders. Who could they turn to get support? If only they had some enthusiastic people wandering through the ruins, ladened down with vacation cash…
Oh wait. They did! The founders asked the tourists for help. Visitors came for the historical landmark but stayed to pet the sweet kitties. Not only did the shelter receive a massive influx of donations, but they gained impassioned volunteers from all over the world.
As years passed, the T. A. Cat Sanctuary grew, and so did its popularity. More donations and volunteers made for healthier cats! Now they could provide higher quality food, vaccinations, and organize fostering programs. But not everyone was on the cat-wagon…
Christian Sculpher / Flickr
The Sanctuary constantly lived under the threat of eviction, but the authorities turned a blind eye to their operation. Until 2012, when the National Archeological Department made moves to squash the refuge.
Martin Conde / Flickr
The organization lodged a formal complaint, claiming the Cat Sanctuary invaded the ancient space and offended its dignity. They launched an eviction campaign in national papers.
Seton Hall University
What they didn’t expect was the power of motivated cat lovers! A petition to keep the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary running formed, and the public outcry of support was overwhelming: the petition gained over 30,000 signatures.
Politicians spoke out in support of the Cat Sanctuary and proposed a plan of compromise and cooperation. Since that time, no other campaigns against the cat savers has been launched.
Andrea Schaffer / Flickr
For now, the cats of Torre Argentina continue to live peacefully. Certainly, their presence adds to the draw of the historic landmark. Who knows, maybe the ghost of Julius Caesar sits with a cat on his lap, brooding over the betrayal of his senators, scratching a snooty cat’s ears in the sunshine…
Nina Sabatino / Flickr
These Italian alley cats prove that kindness and compassion are the two best qualities a person can possess. It is amazing to see what can happen when people come together, but what one man alone did when he saw animals where in need, would ultimately change the fate of thousands.
Heather F / Flickr
When Joseph Sekhar moved his family to Chennai, India in the early 1990s, his intentions were clear-cut: start a business, make a living, and provide for himself and his loved ones. Unsure of where to begin, he looked to his personal passions for the answer.
A lover of photography from a young age, Sekhar quickly found his footing as a camera repairman and soon opened his own shop in the city of Royapettah.
Though cameras were his passion, Sekhar also made time to care for the local wildlife and could often be found feeding the squirrels and sparrows of the area. But little did he know that these small acts of kindness would soon change his life…
On one fateful day, following India’s 2004 tsunami, a pair of ring-necked parakeets appeared on Sekhar’s doorstep. Seeing the poor shape they were in, Sekhar decided to feed them as well.
The parakeets returned the next day, only this time they brought friends. The two parakeets became 10, those 10 became 20, and 20 became a hundred…
Pretty soon, thousands of these parakeets began descending on Sekhar’s modest shanty in search of a meal, and big-hearted Sekhar was more than happy to oblige.
Fourteen years later, Sekhar is still at it, feeding between four and six thousand parakeets every single day. As you can imagine, feeding a flock of birds this large is no small task.
Every morning, Sekhar sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m. to begin preparing pots of rice for his birds’ 6 a.m. arrival. Small birds, small appetite, right? Don’t bet on it.
On an average day, Sekhar cooks nearly 60 kg (130 pounds) of rice for his birds—a morning meal fit for a king! But the work doesn’t end there.
The 62-year-old Sekhar then lugs the rice to the rooftop where a dozen wooden planks serve as a buffet table for his feathered friends. With a skilled hand, Sekhar places hundreds of piles of rice for the coming feast.
Buying enough rice to feed the birds is a significant expense for Sekhar, accounting for almost half of his yearly salary. For a man making roughly $13/hour, it’s clear that these birds mean the world to him, and the lengths he’ll go to to protect them are just as incredible.
The Hindustan Times
While Sekhar purchases most of the rice himself, he also receives donations from time to time from people who admire his mission. Always wary of what he feeds his birds, Sekhar makes sure to eat the first handful of rice himself in order to see if it’s safe.
The health of his birds is so important, in fact, that Sekhar actively shelters and nurses injured parakeets back to health and has even gone as far as discouraging buses from honking outside his shop to avoid frightening the birds.
The New York Post
“I feel responsible for them,” Sekhar said. “I remember how during the cyclone, I fed them non-stop in the rain with a raincoat on.”
Sekhar’s story has spread far and wide, earning him renown as “The Birdman of Chennai”. Even his neighbors can’t help but marvel at the scene that unfolds outside their windows each day…
“Watching [Sekhar] feed parrots is a majestic thing and a spectacular sight,” a neighbor said of the daily ritual. “Many people pass this way and stand and watch for a long time.” But the crowds may not continue for much longer…
According to Sekhar, he’s been given eviction orders by his landlords, who are looking to demolish the entire lot. While this poses serious consequences for Sekhar and his family, it may mean an even worse fate for his birds.
“[T]hey will suffer initially, like a newcomer in a city, lost without a direction,” lamented Sekhar. “I don’t want to put them through it.”
While Sekhar’s landlords are open to selling the property to someone interested in preserving the birds, Sekhar has come up with a plan of his own. With the funds from selling his lifelong collection of 4,500 vintage cameras, he hopes to raise enough money to buy the plot himself.
“I’m willing to let go of [my cameras] for the sake of my birds,” Sekhar said proudly. “After all, what’s more important than love?”
New Indian Express