What will happen to Rome's cats at Largo Argentina?

Rome is about to undertake major works, funded by Bvlgari, to open Largo di Torre Argentina to visitors, prompting questions about how the development will affect the cat sanctuary among the ruins.

Rome's archaeological site at Largo Argentina is about to undergo major works, funded by luxury jeweller Bvlgari, to open up the city's fabled 'Area Sacra' to visitors for the first time.

Best known as the scene of Julius Caesar's assassination, the Largo Argentina site includes four Roman Republican temples, dating from between the third and second centuries BC, and the remains of Pompey's Theatre.

However, when the €1 million project was announced this week, the first question on the lips of many people in Rome and abroad was: "What about the cats?"

The city has assured that the works - which include the installation of raised walkways, illuminated at night - will not affect the residents of the cat sanctuary located below street level, sheltered by a high wall, at the Via Arenula corner of the ancient site.

The modern-day history of cats at Largo Argentina goes back almost a century when the felines began to call the place their home during excavations at the archaeological site in 1929.

Verita is one of the residents of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Photo Laura Mistica.

This led to the creation of a colony of stray and abandoned cats, cared for over the decades by a succession of gattare ('cat ladies'), until the establishment of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in 1994.

"The feline shelter will not be touched, it will be protected" - said Rome mayor Virginia Raggi - "and the cats, famous in Rome and around the world, will stay where they are, silent custodians of these treasures."

Monica Baraschi, the shelter's vice president, stated: "the association doesn't have a problem with the works and it was reassuring that the mayor has said that the cats will be respected and will remain in their place and from the viewpoint of the association there is no concern for our cats."

The works, which will begin in the coming weeks and last about a year, will see the Area Sacra made accessible to visitors in "an integral, definitive way" for the first time, the mayor said.

Fiona Shaw, a long-term volunteer at the sanctuary, told Wanted in Rome she hopes the cats will continue to be able "to live the life they choose in the ruins" which, apart from being a sacred area, is their home.

"Many of the cats who patrol that area are the more feral and shy cats who are not so used to and who don't particularly enjoy human contact" - Shaw said - "and we are sure they will continue to keep a safe distance from visitors if they choose to."

Porthos, "our precious security watchcat who passed away recently." Photo Fiona Shaw.

"Our other more social cats probably won't know any difference as they like to hang out inside or in the garden where they can sunbathe but also enjoy the pleasure of comfortable beds and friendly people who come to visit them" - Shaw said, adding - "The main thing is to ensure they are always safe and not in any danger but that is the same with or without restorations."

The shelter, which is dependent on donations and volunteers, has had a difficult year due to the covid-19 pandemic and the almost total lack of tourists in Rome.

The sanctuary receives no state funding and relies solely on donations from the visiting public and whoever supports its distance adoption scheme.

As for the current cat population at Largo Argentina, Shaw says "89+" before adding that this number will "explode due to the restrictions placed on us during the previous year of covid which is why our sterilisation work is more vital than ever before."

For more information on the cat shelter and how to support the work of the volunteers, see website. Cover photo Vandross and Kalinda.

General Info

Address Largo di Torre Argentina angolo, scavi archeologici, Largo Arenula, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

View on Map

What will happen to Rome's cats at Largo Argentina?

Largo di Torre Argentina angolo, scavi archeologici, Largo Arenula, 00186 Roma RM, Italy