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Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

Colonia Felina Torre Argentina, Rome

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 ArgentinaCats 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.

Many 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 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. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

For more information about the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in English, visit the official Web site. Also see our captioned photos and video below.

  • 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.

More Colonia Felina Torre Argentina photos (and a video):

Largo di Torre Argentina

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is in the Largo di Torre Argentina (above), a "sacred area" with Roman temples and other ruins that were excavated in the late 1920s.

Rome's no 8 tram at Torre Argentina

Rome's number 8 tram line ends at Torre Argentina, just west of the shelter.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary sign

To find the Cat Sanctuary, look for this sign at the southwestern corner of the square. (The shelter is at the corner of Via Florida and Via Arenula, next to the tram line.)

Stairway to Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

A metal staircase leads down to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, which is on the same level as the Roman temple excavations. (Watch out for felines underfoot as you descend the steps.)

Cats in Torre Argentina cat shelter

At the bottom of the steps, cats snooze and play on a small patio. (These cats are lounging under a table laden with toys, gifts, and and other cat-related items from the shelter's charity shop.)

Cat inside the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

Inside the shelter, you'll see more cats. This floppy feline is catching 40 winks in the sanctuary's kitchen.

Largo di Torre Argentina with tourists


Steps in the Largo di Torre Argentina

Back at ground level, another staircase gives access to a platform where you can view the Largo di Torre Argentina's temple excavations close up. (You'll also see many of the approximately 350 cats that live in the Cat Sanctuary, since healthy cats are allowed to wander freely in the ruins.)

Cat at Largo di Torre Argentina

Cat at Torre Argentina

Cat in Roman ruins

Cat in wall niche

Cat on Roman column

If you're allergic to cats, you've come to the wrong place.

Don't Feed the Cats sign

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary discourages feeding of the cats. Instead, you can leave a cash donation at the shelter, which will help to pay for healthy cat food and veterinary care.

Cat stalking pedestrian in Rome

Cat with pedestrians in Rome

Kitten in Largo di Torre Argentina

Cat at Largo di Torre Argentina

Not all of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary's residents stay in the ruins: Many prefer to wander around the square's walls and sidewalks, stalking pedestrians or enjoying the view.

Striped cat in Rome

When you're in Rome, don't miss out on a chance to visit the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, which is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.


About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors (including Rome for Visitors) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

For more information, see About Europe for Visitors, press clippings, and reader testimonials.