Cat sanctuary at Roman site could be clawed away
BEWARE THE Ides of March . . . and the cat pee. The Ides of March, of course, refers to March 15th, 44BC, the day when Gaius Julius Caesar met a distinctly sticky end in downtown Ancient Rome. Shakespeare would have us believe that Brutus and his fellow senators hacked Caesar to death in or close to the ancient Roman senate in the Forum.
Most modern historians accept, however, that he was chopped down close to Pompey’s theatre in the very centre of what is now the Largo di Torre Argentina, a busy square more than a kilometre away from the Forum.
Today it serves as both a bus and tram terminal and as a home to 250 of Rome’s estimated 300,000 feral or wild cats. And therein lies the problem.
The thing is that for longer than anyone knows, cats have chosen to “hang out” at Torre Argentina, a below-ground-level site on the Campus Martius where not only Pompey’s theatre but also three temples once stood.
To some extent, the cats have literally become part of the furniture, so much so that Rome Town Council in 2001 decreed that the cats in Torre Argentina, the Forum and the Coliseum formed part of Rome’s “bio-heritage”. There are even “Cats of Rome” calendars for tourists.
In recent times, these half-wild cats have been protected, fed and looked after by organised groups of gattare – cat-ladies who run self-funding organisations such as the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Luana Stefani of the sanctuary points out that since its foundation in 1995, the organisation has done much to control Rome’s cat population, sterilising some 27,000 cats over the last 17 years.
So when Rome’s archeological heritage authority this week decided that the sanctuary had to go, the decision inevitably met with fierce opposition. The issue even made it to parliamentary question time. It is not that the archeological authority has anything against cats, it is more that it wants to dismantle the “cat sanctuary” building right in the middle of an ancient Roman monument. The cats can stay but the sanctuary has to go.
While the gattare and the city authorities argue over this one, it is hard not to agree with Adriano La Regina, former head of the authority, who said earlier this week: “It is amazing how the city authorities in all these years allowed such an obviously illegal structure like this in an area of huge historical importance.”