Torre Argentina cat sanctuary and the cats of Rome

Spurrina was a feral cat - a cat born and living wild in the big city. While still a kitten, she was hit by a car, and suffered terrible injuries, including irrepble damage to one leg. Fortunately for this little kitten, the accident happened in Rome, and few capitals in the world have taken their feral cat population to their hearts as the Romans have.

Spurrina ended up at the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, where she was examined by vets who decided that her injured back leg would have to be amputated. This meant that the kitten needed to be adopted into a home where she could be cared for and loved despite her disability. But Spurinna was having none of it. She managed to escape from her carers and back into the wild. She found refuge in a part of the ruins of the ancient city which has become a shelter for feral cats. She enjoys her freedom, and largely looks after herself. She has grown into a beautiful cat, but a very shy one who rarely shows herself, even to the carers whom she owes so much.

This courageous cat is one of an estimated quarter of a million cats living wild in the city of Rome. These cats know the ancient monuments better than even the most experienced tour guide. They are an established feature of the city, adding life and colour to the ancient ruins - so much so that the city authorities decided in 2001 that the cats of the Forum, the Colosseum and the Torre Argentina were a part of the city's 'bio-heritage'.

Certainly feral cats have been in Rome longer than many modern capitals have had any citizens at all. The Romans of the time of Julius Caesar knew their feral cats well, and celebrated their independence by adding a cat to statues of the goddess of Liberty. And that link continues today, for the largest and best known of Rome's cat sanctuaries is at the the Torre Argentina, only yards from where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.

Romans are aware of the role that feral cats have played over the centuries in keeping down the numbers of disease-carrying rodents, and the feral cats of the city have a host of by-laws protecting their welfare. Consequently they act as though the human population are guests in their city, arrogantly at ease lolling at the base of an ancient statue or curled up on the sun-warmed roof of a Ferrari.

Rome's restaurant culture means that there are plenty of scraps available from the back alleys, and when times get hard, the cats know that they can turn for food and comfort to the small army of cat-loving Italian housewives known as 'Gattare'; the most famous of whom was the Italian Film star of the 1920s, Anna Magnani.

In the 1920s the Roman temples of 200 and 300 BC in the Torre Argentina area were excavated by archaeologists. The archaeologists were somewhat nonplussed to find that their cave-like excavations were promptly colonized by a swarm of feral cats. Those who cared for the cats were surprised to find that many of the tourists who came to see the ruins were just as interested in the cats, and were happy to contribute funds for their wellbeing. From this interest grew the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, which has enjoyed so much international support that it describes itself as 'a sort of United Nations for cats'. Their website is at, and is well worth a look, not only for heart-warming stories such as Spurinna's, but also for a variety of superb backgrounds for your computer desktop.

In all, the future of the cats of Rome seems secure. There is an established TNR (trap, neuter, and return) programme that makes sure that the cats are vaccinated, and their numbers kept under control. In fact with the number of breeding house cats in Italy declining, the feral cat population is a source of new kittens for Italian homes. So, like frothy cappucinos, scooters and ancient ruins, Rome's cats seem set to remain an essential part of the unique ambience of the city.

Ciao Gatto!

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