In Rome the cats have an ancient temple-complex all to themselves.
Known as Largo di Torre Argentina, this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts in 1929, revealing four Republican victory-temples that lie sunken 20 feet below modern street level. In addition to the remains of four different temples, Torre Argentina also contains part of the famous portico of Pompey, upon whose steps dictator Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed in 44 BCE. Today, volunteers at Torre Argentina care for approximately 130 cats, many of which are disabled or suffer from illness. After the site was excavated, Rome’s feral cats moved in immediately, as they do all over the city, and the gattare, or cat ladies, began feeding and caring for them. Since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to a peak of 250, and the organization has ramped up with care for sick or wounded cats, as well as an extensive spay and neuter program to keep the feral population in check. Most of the permanent residents have special needs—they are blind or missing legs or came from abusive homes.
On any given afternoon a small crowd gathers here to watch the cats sunbathe on ancient pillars and steps. At first it may be hard to spot the cats, but once you start to see them, they are everywhere. Visitors can admire the cats and their ruins from street level, or head down the steps to the underground office to volunteer, peruse the gift shop, donate, and even adopt cats.
There is another Roman cat sanctuary located at the Protestant Cemetery, near the Pyramid of Cestius.