Where to shoot awesome photos of cats among ancient ruins in Rome?

Rome is famous not only for its magnificent sights, but also for the cats that live among the ancient ruins, which are a feature of the cityscape in many places.
gatti roma torre argentina
Gabriella Clare Marino (Unsplash)

It is estimated that around 300 000 purring quadrupeds live in the Eternal City, and they are the only creatures allowed to live among the admired ancient ruins. The Romans love cats so much that they are considered a biocultural asset of the city, and there is a law to protect them (in Rome, you cannot abuse a cat with impunity, with a fine of €10,000 at the very least, but depending on the severity of the offence, you could be jailed for up to three years). Locals and tourists alike are keen to see the four-legged creatures on the streets, and many people catch them on camera.

Largo Torre Argentina – a sanctuary for cats

Are you one of the many cat lovers? Then good news, there are plenty of places to see Roman kittens: streets, squares, doorways, windows, at the foot of houses and even among ancient ruins. But if you want to be sure, pay your respects at the oldest cat colony in the Eternal City, Largo Torre Argentina.
But how did the history of the square come about and why do so many cats live in this area?

You have to go all the way back to 1909, when a city planning plan stipulated that certain ancient structures had to be demolished to improve the road network and build new houses (at the time, there was little concern about the survival of imperial and medieval monuments). But no one expected to find ruins of Republican Rome in this area. In 1926, workers preparing to demolish the house were confronted with a huge statue of a goddess.
A dispute between the owners of the site and the archaeologists flared up, and it was only in 1928, following the personal intervention of the then Prime Minister, that the issue was settled – fortunately in favour of the arts. The record-breaking excavation work led to the inauguration of the excavation site, named Foro Argentina, on 21 April 1929, the 2682nd birthday of the Caput mundi.
Soon afterwards, it was discovered that the platform, made up of large blocks of tufa, was the remains of the site of the former Senate sessions, the place that proved fatal to Julius Caesar in March 44 BC.

gatti roma torre argentina
Gabriella Clare Marino (Unsplash)
gatti roma torre argentina
user32212 (Pixabay)

Cats among the ruins

Fortunately, after more than two thousand years, times are more peaceful for the four-legged ‘inhabitants’ of the area. The cats took over the newly opened ancient excavation area, which is located just below street level and therefore a particularly suitable home for them, practically immediately. It was also almost immediately the start of the ongoing activity of Roman cat lovers: to this day, many of the townspeople come to feed the cats on a more or less regular basis, and some of them even spare no effort to look after their four-legged friends. Unfortunately, even people with less than good intentions soon discovered the peculiarity of the area, and the camp of stray cats in Torre Argentina is enlarged year after year by the cats that are abandoned, saying that “one more or less does not divide, nor multiply”.

Gattari and gattare, the cat-friendly helpers

Good-hearted animal lovers, fortunately, are around from the first moment. In Rome, even famous personalities have sometimes become loyal supporters of the Torre Argentina cat colony. The most notable of these is Anna Magnani, the great actress and Italian neo-realist film star who lived near the square in question. Despite her busy lifestyle, the actress was a true gattara, surrounded by countless purring housemates, and when time allowed, she personally delivered food to the cats living in Torre Argentina.
Antonio Crast, famous mainly for his Shakespearean theatre productions, was also a great lover and helper of cats. It was thanks to him that a room in the basement of the Torre Argentina, next to the ruins, was made available to the helpers, providing a more sheltered shelter for the animals and a place to store food. The actor was so devoted to these animals that he died among them: he was caring for them when he was struck by a fatal illness.

Gattari, gattare

People who look after cats living on the streets are known in Italy as gattari or (for ladies) gattare.

anna magnani
Gabriella Clare Marino (Unsplash)

In the eighties, Franca Stoppi, also an actress and a theatre pro, took over the baton from her colleague. She was not only responsible for feeding the cat colony, but also for neutering the animals. It was then that the number of cats in the excavation area began to be controlled and they finally had access to minimal medical care. (Unfortunately, spaying and neutering as the only way to prevent unrestrained breeding is still not universally understood, and stray animals are still on the streets of Rome thirty years later.)
Her sacrificial work nearly brought Franca Stoppi to the brink of financial and emotional collapse, but fortunately in the 1990s two new cat-loving volunteers, Lia Dequel and Silvia Viviani, began to help her in her work (the task was soon left to the two of them, as the actress soon after moved to Umbria.)

Tourist attraction with four-legged friends

The two new ‘mums’ of the Torre Argentina kittens had incredible perseverance and ingenuity to get out of what seemed a hopeless situation (at the time, 550 cats lived in the area and could hope for nothing more than some food, neutering and the most basic treatments). ) In 1995, when she met a British lady who told her about the amazing work and achievements of British organisations, Lia and Silvia realised that, despite the circumstances, their place had a special feature: it was in an archaeological area in the centre of Rome, and that it was a place where many tourists came to visit. When they became aware of how much more enthusiastic tourists are when a cat jumps on an ancient column or takes a nap on a ruin, they decided to try to help in this way. Much to their surprise, it seemed to work. Thanks to the kindness of the animal-loving visitors, not only did they raise money, but they were joined by other volunteers of various nationalities. Soon they were raising money for the cats at auctions, fairs and charity dinners, with increasing success.

Nowadays, all the kittens that live at Largo Torre Argentina are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, tested and de-wormed. The sacrificial work of the volunteers continues as the kittens rest peacefully at the base of the ancient ruins, waiting for eager visitors to come and see them. If you too would like to take great photos of the kittens in their stunning historical setting, head to Rome and Largo Torre Argentina.

Close to the cats

Here are a few places to stay in the Torre Argentina area from which you can quickly visit the cats and explore Rome city centre.

A pinch of Italian

Learn some Italian expressions that can be useful when travelling.