Rome’s reputation as a city of cat-lovers is relatively well known. Exactly just how much Romans love cats, however, might come as a surprise to many: the four-legged felines have been officially declared part of the city’s ‘bio-cultural’ heritage and even given protection in law! A number of cat colonies, both official and unofficial, can be found across Rome where neighborly volunteers provide care and caresses to the animals. Those who donate their time to looking after the cats are usually women and are affectionally referred to as gattare, or cat ladies, by the locals.
Cats have been living among Rome’s ruins for centuries and locals view them favorably – in ancient times they would have been considered welcome rat-catchers! In recent years, the promotion of sterilization has seen a decrease in the number of strays in the city. With better medical care, cat colonies are generally smaller in size but enjoying longer and healthier lives than ever before, with less cats suffering from illness and disease.
If you’re a kitty-obsessive and planning a trip to Rome, here’s where you should head for a feline fix.
© Gatti di Roma
Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary
Largo di Torre Argentina, a square in the heart of Rome, was first excavated in 1927 and is one of Rome’s most picturesque sites. The ruins, which date back to the Republican era, reveal the remains of four temples and a section of the Theater of Pompey, which was where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44BC. This is one of the city’s most famous areas to find cats roaming and living among its many walls, columns, and other hiding places. For years, the cats were cared for informally by local gattare but in the 1990s, the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary was officially founded and a program set up to spay and neuter the cats in order to control the population. Today, the cat sanctuary is a tourist attraction in its own right, with visitors from all over the world coming to see the resident furries, make a donation or even distance-adopt a cat. There’s also a gift shop with cat themed souvenirs to raise money for the shelter.
© Kyle Sacks/Flickr
The Non-Catholic Cemetery, located on the edge of Testaccio, is famous as being the final resting place of English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley – but it also has a few feline residents, too. Visitors to the cemetery will often encounter cats lounging on graves, curled up asleep between plants, or basking in the sun. The cats are looked after by an association known as I Gatti della Piramide, in reference to the Pyramid of Cestius located next door. The sanctuary is not usually open to the public, except on special open days, so the best way to see the cats is to the visit the cemetery where many roam between mealtimes. You’ll also find a donation box inside so you can contribute to the shelter.
Romeow Cat Bistrot
At Romeow Cat Bistrot in Ostiense, visitors dine alongside six resident cats – look out for felines snoozing in the specially made furnishings or meandering between tables. The atmosphere is relaxed and the food is 100% vegan, made with organic, biodynamic ingredients when possible. You’ll find dishes like jackfruit curry with grilled wholegrain polenta and sweet & sour red cabbage and roasted mushroom tortelli with a cashew nut fondue à la carte or you can also order the five-course tasting menu. Romeow also serves the famous Beyond Burger, available at lunchtime Tuesday to Saturday.