Rome is just an incredible city. Strolling through the heart of the city, every corner could be taken from a post card scene. From baroque churches to ancient archaeological sites; every building is a feast for the eyes.
Even more fascinating than the opulent buildings is the strong bond the ancient city has with cats. Yes, cats! During our trip, we stumbled upon a colony of 200 cats (!!) living at the ancient site of Torre Argentina, where Julius Cesar was once stabbed by Brutus. The cats live in a shelter which is publicly protected. Italy is a no-kill nation, meaning no healthy stray cat is allowed to be put down. The cats of Rome, Gatti di Roma, are a well known tourist magnet and decorate lots of calendars you can buy around the city. All together more than 260,000 stray cats live in Rome in over 2,000 colonies. Rome’s city council even declared cats as part of the Roman bicultural heritage.
Why do cats have such a special place in Roman culture? Apparently, it all dates back to the bubonic plague. The cat population in Italy kept the disease carrying rats in check, avoiding Italy’s population to succumb to the disease, unlike the rest of Europe. When the Italian Catholic church started to chase and hunt down cats in the 1300s, there were not enough cats anymore to chase rats and disease spread rapidly across the country.
Today, organised volunteers and the neighbourhood “gattare”(=cat ladies who feed cats) look after Rome’s felines. The most famous gattare was Italian movie star Anna Magnani, known for feeding the stray cats of Trastevere with pots of pasta.
So on your next trip to Rome, look out for the cats of Torre Argentina, the Colosseum and the garden of Trajan. Beautiful animals majestically perching on marble columns, looming over Italy’s ancient cultural treasures. What a sight!