The cats of Rome are so famous that a whole series of merchandise – calendars, fridge magnets and all sorts of other souvenirs – is dedicated to them. But what’s the relationship between these lovely, small and at times mischievous felines and the Eternal City, and why should you bother about them at all?
You see – street cats in Rome don’t just live in the street. In a city that has so much history and culture, cats have decided to live in truly unique places. So you will spot them napping on top of a column; basking in the sun right by a historical landmark; or enjoying the shade and breeze at an archeological site.
If you are an animal lover or a self-professed cat lady (much like yours truly); whether you are interested in experiencing some lesser known places in Rome or quite simply curious about one of the many things that make the Italian capital a special place, this post is for you. Here I will tell you what you need to know about the cats of Rome, including the best place to spot them.
Some Background Information About The Cats Of Rome
Much more than today, cats in the past were highly regarded for being the most powerful instruments to protect houses from mice and rats – the very same rats that would cause the spread of the plague. Much like in the Egyptian Empire, with which Rome had a close relationship, some sects in Rome venerated these animals.
As of today, there are roughly 300000 cats in Rome, of these around 180000 live with a family; whereas around 120000 are feral. The last census conducted by the Office for Animal Rights of the City of Rome counted around 4000 cat colonies.
In any other city in the world, chances are that such a large amount of feral cats would be seen as a nuisance. Truthful to its uniqueness, Rome has gone above and beyond to protect its feline inhabitants and in 2001 the City Council declared that the cats living in the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Largo di Torre Argentina archeological site are actually part of the city’s “bio-heritage.”
Largo di Torre Argentina – Rome’s Most Famous Sanctuary
I came across Largo di Torre Argentina, Rome’s most famous cat sanctuary, during a trip to Rome with my dad. We were walking around the Historic Center, heading from Piazza Venezia, where the Altare della Patria is located, to the Pantheon. I love cats, and I am pretty sure I have a superpower that helps me spot them even at a distance (and despite being shortsighted) or when they try to hide. As we walked along the site, I spotted a cat resting in the shade, then another, and another – that’s when I realized that I was probably looking at cat sanctuary – and on a closer look, that the cat sanctuary was actually in an archeological site.
The marvelous site of Largo di Torre Argentina was first discovered in 1929, when the city was undergoing massive restorations under orders of Mussolini. Excavations helped to reveal a site that included four Republican victory-temples, as well as the Curia of Pompey, within the larger Pompey Theater, on whose steps Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on 15 March, 44 BCE – a date known in history as the Ides of March.
Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary has been taking care of local feral cats for more than 25 years now. The sanctuary was founded by two “gattare” (gattara is the Italian word for cat lady) – Lia Dequel, who passed away in 2013, and 80-years-old Silvia Viviani, a retired opera singer who continues her work as a volunteer at the shelter.
At the moment, there are 89 cats living at the sanctuary, many of whom are ill – suffering from kidney failure; and some disabled – blind, deaf, missing a limb, etc. Yet, thanks to the love and care of the shelter’s volunteers, they live a happy, full life and they know what love is. Depending on the time of year, there will also be kittens in search of their forever home.
The cat shelter does an incredible job of feeding the cats and taking care of any health issue; and an even more impressive job at spaying and neutering cats throughout Rome to help control the number of feral cats in the city and in finding them a loving home.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can enter Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary via a set of steps located on the corner with Via Arenula. It’s open every day from 12:00 to 6:00 pm.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another famous cat sanctuary in Rome is that of the Protestant Cemetery, near the Pyramid of Cestius.
How To Help The Roman Cat Ladies
There are many ways in which you can help the cats of Rome. Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary is obviously free to visit, and you are welcome to go any whenever it is open to the public, pet the cats, talk to the volunteers, and buy a souvenir or two – any money spent there is going to be used to care for the animals.
If you are staying in Rome for a few months or more, you may even consider becoming a volunteer – the shelter is always looking for help, and even more so for volunteers who speak English, so that they can attend to the many foreign tourists that visit daily.
Finally, you can support the shelter from a distance by making a donation via their website or via the distance adoption program, via which you will be directly sponsoring a cat.
Either way, just make sure you visit – it really is one of the nicest, most unique places to see in Rome.
Are you traveling to Rome? Make sure to also read my other posts:
- The Best Tips For Visiting Rome
- The Nicest Parks In Rome
- The Most Beautiful Piazzas In Rome
- The Best Areas Where To Stay In Rome
- The Best Airbnbs In Rome
- The Most Famous Landmarks In Rome
- The Best Virtual Tours Of Rome
- The Best Quotes About Rome
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome
- Which Are The Seven Hills Of Rome?
- How To Make Supplì Al Telefono