There has been a cat fight between archeologists and a cat shelter that services the colony of cats in an area of crumbling ruins in central Rome called Torre Argentina. This site was a meeting place for politicians and the place that Brutus stabbed Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Despite the area’s violent heritage, the ruins offer a peaceful reprieve from the surrounding bustle of the city. Tourists are as drawn to the cats as they are to the historical significance of the place.
Ancient inhabitants that linger to this day
It has been said that the spirit of Caesar lives on in some of the aristocratic cats that preside over the ruins. Lia Dequel, one of the Torre Argentina shelter’s founders speaks about the chemistry of the ancient ruins and the modern inhabitants: “The two together are fantastic … because monuments come alive if you see a cat lying on it, or jumping from one pillar to another.”
There has been a steady support of the cats in Rome, and they even have legal protected status. They were designated as being part of Rome’s “bio-heritage” in 2001 by the city council.
The History of Torre Argentina’s Cat Colony
The ruins of Torre Argentina were excavated in 1929. Local cats promptly moved in as if they had never left. They were cared for by “the gattare,” (the equivalent to a team of “crazy cat ladies” as they would be called here in the U.S.) Some of the gattare also included men, a famous Italian film star, and other dedicated patrons of the arts that seem to have a natural affinity for the cats.
Nineteen years ago, dedicated cat lovers sought to take a more organized approach to helping manage the colony. In recent years, that has also included implementing a Trap, Neuter, and Return program after consulting with other feral cat experts worldwide. They converted a murky cave-like storage area located under the streets in the foundations of a temple to be equipped with modern conveniences such as electricity and running water to better serve cats needing care.
Soon tourists from around the world began supporting their cause. Some even adopt cats and travel with them to their home countries. The Torre Argentina Cat Shelter also offers cat-related tourist gifts and adoptions from a distance to help fund their efforts. In short, the cats themselves have become a significant tourist attraction.
Some archeologists feel that the cats and the cat lover’s alterations to the underground facility are undermining the historical significance of the site: “The cat ladies are occupying one of the most important sites in Largo Argentina, and that is incompatible with the preservation of the monument,” said Fedora Filippi, an archaeologist from the Italian Culture Ministry, as cited by The New York Times. Based on this and the fact that the shelter was not sanctioned through the government, they were given an eviction notice. This was met with a swift outcry with international support for the shelter.
The Mayor Makes a Visit
After visiting the refuge on 12/4/12, mayor Gianni Alemanno said, “These cats are not up for debate, they are part of the history of Rome.” Regarding the Torre Argentina Shelter, he exclaimed, “This is a praiseworthy, historical, wonderful enterprise. The feline colony must not be hounded out. Woe to those who lay a finger on the cats!”
The shelter currently looks after around 250 cats, providing them with food, sterilizations, vaccinations, and adoption services.
To learn more about this story visit:
NPR’s article, “Cat Fight In Rome: Beloved Shelter Faces Closure.”
Featured image credit: Discovery/Deb Collins.