I have already written, some months ago, about dogs in Rome. It is now time to consider the cats of the city. Felines are definitely “dappertutto,” that is, “everywhere” in the Eternal City. Many sidewalks, ruins, churches, piazza, public stairways, have one or more cats in residence or striding by. They are for the most part taken for granted, it seems to me, but presumably good at keeping the mice and rat populations at bay, and I understand that many of the city’s stray cats are daily fed, especially pasta, by local residents.
The faint of heart may not wish to read the next two sentences. In which case, skip this paragraph. The story has it, whether apocryphal or true, that during World Wars I and II, when rations were at a minimum, citizens had to resort to eating stray cats. As a result, and in gratitude for their helping to keep people alive in dire times, the cats today in the Eternal City are esteemed by many and generally looked after.
One of the most dramatic current cat populations in Rome is in the bustling Piazza Largo di Torre Argentina, just three blocks from our Curia Sant’Ambrogio where I live. I walk through Largo di Torre Argentina almost every day and on occasion, several times in the same day.
In the middle of the huge Largo Argentina quadrangle of sidewalks, streets and shops carrying clothing, household goods, souvenirs, food and books, there is an enormous below-ground level park of ancient Roman ruins. It is a tourist draw every day of the year for its historical and cultural value.
I will now say a little about the ruins of Largo Argentina before we move on to discuss the myriad of stray cats who live among the ruins there and who are very well looked after. My younger sister, who visited the site last year while in Rome, dubbed the square “Piazza di Kitty.” More about that further down the page!
Largo di Torre Argentina contains the ruins of four Roman Republican temples and Pompey’s Theatre, where Julius Caesar was believed to have been assassinated. These sites are among the oldest temples in Rome, 400 to 300 years before the birth of Christ.
The name of the piazza comes from a nearby tower, though not in the square itself, built in the early 1500s by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Johannes Burkardt, from Strasbourg, a city whose Latin name is “Argentoratum.”
Burkardt’s nickname was “Argentinus.” The name stuck and the nearby piazza is still called “Torre (Tower) Argentina.” There is another tower in the piazza itself, dating from medieval times, and most presume that is the tower (torre) refers to in the name of square. Not so, but that is a minor point and enough said about the piazza.
The “Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary” (its official name) is more the focus of this essay and will commence here. First of all, notice the name of the sanctuary is in English. That basically indicates the initiative of the place is from English speakers, either Americans, British or Australian ex-patriots, along with some Italian volunteers as well.
The cat sanctuary at Torre Argentina is home to some 130 felines. Volunteers help look after the cats, which includes feeding and cleaning the felines. Visitors are welcome to the sanctuary building (watch your head as there are some very low steel beams in the ceiling). One can visit the many cats that are “indoors” for various reasons (including age and health) and there is a giftshop with a lot of cat-related items. Sales help maintain the cats.
There is even an “adopt a kitty from afar” program at the sanctuary, to help defray the cost of upkeep of a specific cat. The entrance to the Largo di Torre Argentina sanctuary is at the corner of Via Florida and Via di Torre Argentina, across the street from a great Pizzeria (called “Florida”) and across the street from a major bus stop on Via di Torre Argentina.
The majority of the Largo Argentina cats wander freely among the extensive Roman ruins. These are not open to the public to walk in, but can be easily viewed from the sidewalks above. It is hard to believe that over 100 cats are among the ruins, but just watch for a minute or so and you are bound to spot one or more; hence, the name, “Piazza di Kitty,” that my sister came up with.
Some reading this may wonder if I am a “feline fanatic” or a major patron of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. I am afraid the answer is no to both. I enjoy pointing out the place to folks I know who come to Rome or who live here. I confess too that I am more a cat person than a dog person, but above and beyond that, the cats and I live fairly separate lives and our paths only occasionally crossing.
I should point out that I regularly find a cat inside our nearby parish church of Santa Maria in Portico, where I sometimes go to pray or attend liturgy. I believe the cat is a stray who likes to sneak into the church now and then. The priests of the Order of Mater Dei who staff the parish do not seem to mind the orange cat regularly in church. Cats of all colors and sizes are simply part of life in Rome and one needs to get used to that fact.