Cats Among the Ruins of Rome

Torre Argentina

Torre Argentina, a cat sanctuary among the ruins

The grey Roman skies overhead unleashed a torrent of rain as I reached Torre Argentina near the Pantheon. Dashing across the street for cover underneath a red awning, I bought the first umbrella that a passing vendor handed me. I watched as large pellets of rain hit the surface and bounced upward. Miserable weather. Fortunately, the squall was short-lived and I was soon crossing the street again.

I had come to see the cats of Rome who have called Torre Argentina their home since it was excavated in 1929. The below-street level block contains some of Rome’s earliest temples. Among them are a part of the Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.

The cats are mostly feral. They prowl around the ancient ruins as though they owned them and answer only to the Gattara, or “Cat Women” of Rome who come to feed them during lean times.


At the cat sanctuary of Torre Argentina

Gazing downward to the wet grass and dampened stones, I soon began to see cats creep out from under hiding places that had given them shelter from the rain. At one corner, a gate with a staircase lead down to the underground cat sanctuary.

Torre Argentina

Entrance down to the sanctuary

The sanctuary began as a cave-like excavated area under the street that served as a shelter for the cats at night and a place to store food. For a long while there was no running water or electricity. A big gas lantern was placed on a table that cast shadows of the cats on the cave walls and created a spooky atmosphere.

Inside the sanctuary today are large rooms painted white. Cages line some of the walls with cats under medical supervision. All of the 200 cats are up for adoption. Most of the permanent cats have special needs like blindness or missing a limb. The volunteers show a great love for these cats and are very interactive in finding them safe and loving homes.

Torre Argentina

Volunteer inside the sanctuary

Torre Argentina

Cats curled up inside every bed and box

Torre Argentina

An independent cat cozied up on the gift display

There are estimated to be about 2000 cat colonies (local groupings of feral cats) in Rome. The city council of Rome protects the cats living among the ancient ruins of the Colosseum, the Forum and Torre Argentina as part of the city’s bio-heritage.

James Martin in his article, Rome Cats, explains that “not everyone in Rome, of course, holds a fondness in their hearts for their neighborhood Gattara (cat women), or for the cats, but it hardly matters to the healthier ones, who augment their meals outside the finest of Rome’s eateries. In summer there are pigeons, mice and lizards to be had in the excavations and nearby fields as well. (In antiquity, the cat was highly valued for just this activity–defending mankind against rodent borne diseases like the plague.”

Torre Argentina

Jungle Gym!


Cat with a penthouse view!

All of the abandoned cats are spayed, neutered and vaccinated. The sanctuary is operated by an international group of volunteers who welcome visitors and give free tours of the premise. Donations from tourists, fund-raising projects and the sanctuary store keep the shelter running. It is kept very clean with every small box and cat bed occupied by a curled up feline.

Torre Argentina

Enjoying a Zen moment

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is open 7 days a week from noon until 6pm. Only a 5 min. walk from the Pantheon. Entrance is free. So is the love.

For additional information:

Roman Cats

Categories: History

16 replies

  1. Love that place! Last year local authorities were talking about shutting down the cats’ sanctuary at Torre Argentina. Let’s hope they won’t do it. Those cats are as much of a Roman attraction as the ruins. Thank you for a lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen the cats in and around the ruins but didn’t know about the sanctuary. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful post! Never heard of this…I thought all the cats live in the Coliseum:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Trust the Italians to turn feral cats into a tourist attraction! It’s great they do take care of them though. Wish someone did the same for the dogs in Pompeii. There was a brief attempt at adopting them but not quite sure it’s still going on.


  5. So cute…loved this cat post Susan, thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not a cat person, Susan (can you tell?), but I still found this post fascinating πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have been here a few times to see the cats and leave a donation. It is great that someone cares for the poor cats.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have certainly seen plenty of cats during my visits to Rome, and I knew about the Cat Ladies feeding them. However, the shelter you describe is new to me. I’m not a cat lover, but not a hater either. So I will add this to my visits next year when I head to Rome. It is certainly a good cause. Thanks for telling us about it.

    Liked by 1 person


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