Cats live among the ruins

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Feral cats and strays can be found all around the world. We’ve told you about our experiences with colonies in the United States as well as the efforts of one woman to care for feral cats in Iran. If you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ve likely seen calm feral cats walking around the ruins and in the public parks. When I studied in Rome for a month in college, I was touched by the juxtaposition of young cats lounging on ancient ruins. Part of my studies in Rome included translating texts on ruins (much more difficult than the Latin clearly printed in my text books!) so I spent a lot of time around those ruins and consequently saw a lot of those cats!

two cats among Roman ruins

I took a few quick pictures of the cats when I was in Rome in 2006. There is a tuxedo cat and a calico cat in this photo. Artifacts are behind the fencing for protection.

I wasn’t a student of Egyptology, but I did know cats were precious to the Egyptians, and likely responsible for keeping mice out of the grain owed to Rome as tribute. The Romans owed their bread to cats. It seemed fitting then that, long after the fall of ancient Rome, the cats’ descendents were still around and being cared for by the descendents of those early Romans.

According the Irish Times the cats of Torre Argentina, the Colosseum and the Forum are a part of the city’s “biocultural heritage” as decreed by the city council of Rome. Groups of Romans, known as gattare, are still caring for the colonies of cats around the beautiful city. Some simply feed the cats, but others are highly organized and conduct Trap Neuter Return (learn more about Trap, Neuter, Return) along with providing food, shelter and basic medical care, plus socialization and adoption of those cats able to enter homes.

One group, the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, operates a famous shelter near the Area Sacra of Largo Argentina, near the spot where academics and archeologists believe Brutus stabbed Caesar. The shelter itself, according to the New York Times, is on top of the remains of a temple believed to be from the second century B.C.E. Because of the shelter’s location on top of the temple, its status is in jeopardy with some officials calling it illegal.

NPR reports that the shelter is staffed entirely by volunteers and cares for approximately 200 cats on site, as well as vaccinating and neutering around 27,000 cats from other colonies over the past 10 years.  I wish I had known about the shelter during my time in Rome — I often caught buses from the nearby terminal! I didn’t know much about cats back then, but I definitely would have paid a visit.

The future of the shelter is uncertain. National archeological officials have previously stated that the cats could stay, but that the facility (currently located inside of an old storage center) would have to go. The shelter’s online diary states that on Tuesday, December 4, Rome’s archaeological superintendent and others visited the shelter to see the shelter’s work and discuss alternatives. The resulting proposal, which the local archeological department will bring to the national superintendent, is for the shelter to find a sponsor to fund restoration work to bring the sanctuary in line with archeological department standards.

Rome’s mayor issued a video about the visit which you can watch online. My Italian has sadly disintegrated since college so I cannot translate the video myself. The shelter states that the mayor “reiterated that the work…is essential and [they] cannot be moved.”

I hope that the shelter finds a way to stay without harming the ruins. Discoveries about our past fascinate me, and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have a special place in my heart for classical Rome. I do feel that we cannot sacrifice the present for the past though, so I want both sides to come away happy — the ruins and the cats safe.