For some, standing in the ancient temple ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, it may have been overwhelming to know that they were in the same spot where Julius Caesar was murdered twenty centuries ago. Perhaps they would feel the same chill I had felt earlier that day when wandering the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, as if the ghosts of ancient gladiators and villagers or maybe Caesar himself were still there.
But for me, standing in the ancient ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, I was overwhelmed by the cats.
We spotted the first one, quick and black, skirting across one of the stone walls overgrown with weeds. A second emerged from what remains of the Temple of the Goddess Fortuna. The six standing pillars of the temple, broken and cracked but still reaching towards the heavens, sat on a raised platform and formed a semicircle behind the feline as he crept towards us. His eyes never left ours as he moved along the blocks of stone, as if preparing to defend his kingdom from a potential attack.
Stray cats are common throughout Rome, but Largo di Torre Argentina is where a majority of them currently reside, due to the cat sanctuary that now dwells there. Long before the cat sanctuary, however, the square was home to the ruins of four ancient temples and the Theater of Pompey. The temples were all built between 4th century BC and 101 BC. And in 44 BC, The Pompey Theater became the scene of Caesar’s murder.
It was hard to focus on that, though, with all of the cats surrounding us.
The Torre Argentina cat sanctuary has been an official business since 1993, but it’s history spans back to 1929, when excavation of the ancient holy area began. The square sits below street level, with the surrounding modern streets held up on pillars, forming a somewhat protective cover for the cats who began to take shelter there. Shortly after, women in the nearby neighborhoods began caring for the cats. In the 90s, three women came together to form an official shelter. There are now many employees and volunteers at the shelter, and they takes in abandoned, homeless, and injured cats, all of which are up for adoption. I never would have thought you could visit the site of Caesar’s murder as the owner of a new cat.
After a few minutes in the square, we seemed to gain the trust of some of the felines, who came to us one by one. A group of four soon surrounded us, looking like battered gladiators out of battle. One was missing a hind leg, another was missing an eye, the third had a disfigured mouth. A small grey cat without a tail was particularly friendly, weaving its way between our feet and rubbing against our legs.
After many minutes of fawning over the tailless cat, we started to head out. But she stopped us with a meow, and we turned to see her following us. Unable to resist, we spent a few more minutes with her. And when we had to leave her a second time, I felt like quite the traitor.