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Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

Colonia Felina Torre Argentina, Rome

Cats have have long been associated with Rome and its ruins. Some estimates put Rome's cat population at 300,000, and an Italian "biocultural heritage" law--introduced in 1991--dictates that, wherever five or more cats live together in a "natural urban habitat," they can't be moved or chased away.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

ABOVE: A cat gets a brushing at the Colonia Felina Torre Argentina, a no-kill shelter in a "sacred area" of ancient Roman ruins.

Cats at Largo di Torre ArgentinaMany of Rome's stray cats live in ancient ruins, such as the Colosseum (home to some 200 feral cats) and the Forum. In the 1920s, a large number of homeless felines took up residence in the newly excavated Roman temples at the Largo di Torre Argentina, a square in the city center.

Over the years, the cats at Torre Argentina were cared for by a succession of gattare, or "cat ladies," who operated an informal cat shelter from dungeon-like quarters beneath the sidewalk at the Largo's southern edge.

Kitten at Torre Argentina Cat SanctuaryIn 1993, two women--Silvia Viviani and Lia Dequel--founded the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary (in Italian, Colonia Felinia Torre Argentina, or "Torre Argentina Feline Colony").

Today, the shelter offers a comprehension sterilization and adoption program, and it also cares for sick, handicapped, or elderly cats that are difficult to place in homes. Some 350 cats live in the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary at any given time, with the healthiest cats roaming freely among the ruins or interacting with passersby at street level.

Visiting the shelter

The Largo di Torre Argentina excavations are surrounded by sidewalks, with stairs leading down to viewing platforms. You'll find plenty of cats to admire, photograph, or play with; some are quite friendly and enjoy being stroked behind the ears. (See the final shot in our video on page 3.)

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary stairsIf you have time, go down the metal staircase at the southern edge of the square (it's marked with a sign) to visit the underground shelter. There--in modernized, hygienic rooms--staff and volunteers of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary prepare food, sterilize and immunize cats, offer adoptions, and provide indoor housing for cats that need special care.

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary sells feline toys, gadgets, and gifts to raise funds, and it relies heavily on donations from visiting tourists. We encourage you to visit the sanctuary and donate what you can afford. If you'd like to have a cat while outsourcing your responsibilities as a pet owner, you can "adopt at a distance" by pledging a monthly donation for a specific cat at the shelter.

Visiting hours are noon to 6 p.m. daily. For more information about the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in English, visit www.romancats.com.

Also see our large captioned photos on page 2 and videos on page 3 of this article.

  • Tip: If you're a cat fancier, consider staying at the Hotel di Torre Argentina, which is just around the corner from the shelter. That way, you can stop by and enjoy the Largo di Torre Argentina's 350 cats whenever you're in the mood.

Next page: More photos of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary


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