If you have ever been to Rome, Italy you might recall seeing cats lounging among the ruins. I vacationed in Italy and it was the strangest, most incongruous of sights. I still think about those felines languorously lounging among stone pillars and crumbling foundations.
After being in Rome for nearly a week with a soft rain drizzling from an ominous gray sky, which meant that I went here, here and here with an umbrella and a smile; the sun finally decided to show itself. I celebrated the excellent weather by taking a walk and bus ride to an English-language bookstore and purchased When In Rome (one of my favorite chick lit books of all times), an appropriate book for vacationing in the Eternal City and my introduction to fabulous chick lit author Gemma Townley (Sophia Kinsella’s equally talented sister.).
The bookstore was directly across from the Largo di Torre Argentina better known as ‘The Place Where Julius Cesar Was Murdered’. The Torre Argentina, formerly the site of four Roman Republican-area temples and the infamous Theater of Pompey is an example of why Rome is one of my favorite cities. I have a passion for ancient history and archaeology and in Rome there are ruins EVERYWHERE. History lives and breathes among the restaurants, cafes, gelato shops and boutiques.
With newly purchased book in hand, I crossed the busy street and marveled at the decaying remnants of Rome in its glory. The ruins were sunken but there was a plexiglass border running around the perimeter of the tourist attraction, so you could lean over and view the ancient square. Well, I was leaning and snapping pictures when I saw movement in the distance.
Confused, I turned to the random person beside me. “E’ gatto?” To paraphrase, ‘Is that a cat?’, probably not grammatically correct but effective none the less.
The man shrugged, “Si.” His tone was more ‘duh!’ than yes, but oh well.
Leaning forward and squinting my eyes (my eyesight is atrocious), I saw at least fifty cats moving around the grounds. I wasn’t sure if I should be horrified or entranced. I decided moderately interested was appropriate and did some research.
I found out later that there were thousands upon thousands of cats lurking amongst the various ruins in Rome and are considered an authentic part of the Roman Holiday experience. And while many locals feel the numerous stray cats are a nuisance, in 2001 the Rome City Council designated cats living in the Coliseum, the Forum and Torre Argentina a part of the city’s ‘bio-heritage’ to be protected, which means you can not use them for target practice or hackey sack (just jokes, people!). On the other hand, the cats of Rome are considered part of the area’s ‘wild life’, so there is no government funds allocated to create shelters for them. Confusing, no?
Local lore states that we can thank the fall of the ancient Egyptian empire for the world-wide distribution of cats. Roman ships were in and out of ancient Alexandria during and after their successful invasion of the region. And cats, ever intelligent saw pretty quickly the writing on the wall, deciding to ‘stow away’ on sailing vessels headed for Rome and greener pastures. Cats would no longer be the object of worship in Egypt but they would eventually become second only to dogs as man’s best friend around the world.
There are an estimated 300,000 feral (born in the wild) cats roaming the streets of Caput Mundi and being fed by gattare–or cat women. You know, an elderly lady with know one to take care of but stray cats. I suppose those women are in every society but God bless them for feeding and loving cats that no one else wants. There is also a cat sanctuary in a cave underneath the Torre Argentina that actively care for and house strays.
Author John Marciano (son of Madeline’s original series author and creator Ludwig Bemelmans’s) has written a cute children’s book about the cats in Rome. It is one of the newest book in the lovable Madeline series and perfect for the pre-k through elementary set.
If you are planning a trip to Rome and love cats, then by all means take pics of the kitties and give some spare change to the folks at the cat sanctuary. If you can believe it, there is even a ‘cat culture‘ tour you can take.
But if you are anything like me (did I mention that I am not partial to cats?), you will carefully step over the fickle felines and head directly to the Piazza Navona. Where you will then grab an outdoor table, enjoy a cup of delicious gelato and people watch. Either way, cat-lover or gelato aficionado, there is something in Rome for everyone to enjoy.