Cats are omnipresent in Rome, and they can rightly be considered citizens and a symbol of the Eternal City. Romans have always liked pets, and numerous postcards of cats sitting or napping at the feet of ancient statues, or just lounging near the Colosseum, testify to the deeply rooted association cats have with the Eternal City, which gives it an extraordinary charm.
Around 300.000 cats live in Rome – 180.000 in the houses and 120.000 in the streets. The latest animal census was commissioned by the Office for Animal Rights of the capital, and counted more than 4.000 colonies of cats. They first came to Rome from Egypt, where they had been domesticated in the early days of Egyptian civilization.
Torre Argentina is the cats’ colony in the city center, which is home to around 150 feline friends, sheltered amongst the oldest temples in Rome. Seven days a week, volunteers feed, clean, and look after them. Visitors are always welcome to look around, visit the cats, and browse the Cat shop or adopt one of the cats.
The cat sanctuary of Torre Argentina was founded in 1993 by Viviani and Lia Dequel, two friends who would pass by the ruins and see cats in need of food and medical attention. According to Lifeinitaly.com, Franca Stoppi, an Italian actress, would regularly feed the cats and pay for medical services, but the need was greater than she could manage alone.
Viviani and Dequel began helping her, but it still wasn’t enough. Someone suggested asking passing tourists to help with donations. Viviani was uncomfortable with the idea, but necessity caused her to reconsider. The first day, she recalled, she dressed in her best clothes. She didn’t want people to think she was asking for money for herself. And she says it worked. People gave, and she and her colleagues were able to aid many more cats.
About 200 cats live in the Colosseum. Sometimes you will spot one zipping across an arch, or you may just glimpse a tail as it disappears into the ruins. But they are there, they are always there. In fact, Rome has a regional law which states that if more than five cats are found living in a natural habitat they can not be given their marching orders, it constitutes a protected feline colony. So the cats live in relative peace from eviction and death as it is also illegal to kill a cat or a dog in Rome. Many of the cats at the Colosseum are feral, and it is wise not to try and pat them, not that you would get a chance, as most of them are timid and untrusting.
Cats are the established feature of the city, adding life and colour to the ancient ruins – so much so that the city has decided that the cats of Torre Argentina and the Colosseum are a part of the city’s bio heritage.
To emphasize its appreciation for cats, Rome even has a restaurant bar which welcomes stray cats, the first of its kind in Italy. The concept at Romeow, Rome’s cat-lover’s restaurant, is to offer a place where you can eat, drink, and play with cats. Cats love it, and guest love it – which is a perfect recommendation for a visit if you are a tourist and a cat lover in Rome.
Rome may have been established by brothers raised by a wolf, but at the moment – cats are ruling the city.