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
The best part is, one of these Italian alley cats could be yours! The Sanctuary tries to find the most purr-fect home for all its four-legged residents. They even offer distant adoption, where you can sponsor a cat and receive updates on their progress.
Heather F / Flickr