Cats in the Largo Argentina ~ Two Sides

You have, no doubt, already heard that Roman officials plan to get rid of those (in)famous cats wandering around the Roman Forumish area … if not, here’s typical coverage from the Telegraph:

For as long as anyone can remember, cats have roamed the marble columns of the ancient site in Rome where Julius Caesar was murdered by Marcus Brutus and his band of senators.

Now, though, the felines of the Largo Argentina archaeological site have fallen victim to a conspiracy themselves. Rome’s modern-day rulers have declared them a health hazard.

Both the cats and the staff at the informal sanctuary that looks after them have been given their marching orders, despite the animals becoming a popular tourist attraction in their own right.

City heritage officials say that the sanctuary, which lies just on a pedestal just a few yards from where Caesar was hacked down, must close because it is unhygienic, was built without proper planning permission and compromises one of Italy’s most important archaeological sites.

“How was it possible that these cat lovers were able to construct their refuge on an ancient monument?” asked Andrea Carandini, a former president of the national cultural heritage council.

But the volunteers who run the refuge, a tiny, cave-like space packed with cats of every colour and pattern, have vowed to fight the eviction order. They said they provide a vital service for the city, taking in strays, sterilising them, and giving them food and medicine.

The cats – there are currently 250 of them – have free run of the adjoining remains and can be seen lounging in the sun on broken bits of marble, padding along fallen pillars and sleeping curled up on the corrugated iron roofs which protect the monuments from rain.

“Without us here the cats would be begging for food on the pavements and getting run over by trams and buses on the streets – it would be a disaster,” said Lia Dequel, one of the founders of the refuge.

The volunteers also denied that they had built the facility illegally, saying the space they took over 19 years ago had been dirty, damp and abandoned. The site itself was discovered in the 1920s after falling into decay at the end of the Roman Empire and lying buried for centuries.

“From what the authorities are saying, you would think we were occupying the Parthenon,” said Silvia Viviani, co-founder of the refuge. “I’m a Roman and I’m very proud of our ancient heritage but we are not damaging anything here.” The refuge attracts tens of thousands of tourists a year, who descend the metal steps leading down from street level to stroke the cats and buy cat-related t-shirts, fridge magnets and other souvenirs, the money from which helps keep the place going.

“It’s a fantastic place,” said Cristina Lazzaroni, who was visiting from Milan. “I cannot see that it is damaging the ruins. Romans have always lived with cats. These people are doing good work.”

However, the issue has now even been taken up by parliament, with a senator from the centre-left Democratic Party declaring last week that it was “unthinkable” that ancient Roman ruins should be treated in such a way

Valerio Massimo Manfredi, an archaeologist, insisted the cats should be transferred elsewhere. “This is an extraordinarily important area that dates from the Roman Republican era and is where Julius Caesar was murdered,” he said.

If you’re on the cats’ side — and given that you’re reading this on the Internet and are a Classicist, there’s a high probabilit you just might be — Ian Tompkins sent in a link to the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary website, which has ongoing updates and other facilities of interest.

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One thought on “Cats in the Largo Argentina ~ Two Sides

  1. Walter Muzzy says:

    ~1993 an archaeologist working at the site illegally gave them a key so they could have better access to the cats.
    And they became squatters as they slowly moved it.

    Later they would receive eviction notices which they would ignore and the Roman gov’t would ignore them ignoring them and everyone was happy:-).

    But now almost 20yrs later they plan on opening the site to tourists and suddenly it’s an outrage that they are there?

    I just wish that these same gov’t officials and archaeologists would have the same outrage and ambition when it comes to protecting Rome’s ancient monuments that are crumbling away at this very moment.

    Stray cats will always live in these ruins and having non-profit volunteers feeding, neutering, vaccinating, etc these cats would be alot better than opening the site to tourists where diseased, maimed, hungry cats run wild.

    Hopefully they will get permission to set-up their operation along the northwall of this site which would be alot better for them plus it’s just a storage area beneath the sidewalk.

    IMO Even the site they now occupy isn’t a major concern as far as the archaeology of the site.
    It’s in a far corner where tourists won’t be allowed to roam and on top of Temple D’s concrete podium within a small rear area of that temple and within a section of the cella’s wall.

    Of course if today they asked to set-up the answer should be No but they are already there and a World famous tourist attraction, so what harm can be done to a small section of this concrete podium?

    http://tinyurl.com/a8s4k43 front view of Temple D, the cat sanctuary is in the rear behind the cella wall.

    http://tinyurl.com/avuzjxy rear view

    http://tinyurl.com/ack9dev side view

    The plants are all potted and not growing in the podium:-).

    p.s. It has been almost a month since the announcement by the Spanish archaeologist(s) about his discovery of what he claimed to be an Augustus memorial concrete structure marking the spot of Julius Caesar’s assassination.
    I have not yet found any other archaeologists or archaeological organizations supporting this so-called discovery?

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