Rome and cats are still an inseparable pair today. This is testified by the most sold and loved postcards by foreign visitors, those that portray Roman cats lazily crouched on the ruins or posing next to the statues. In the capital alone, 120,000 strays live which, since 2001, the Municipality of Rome has considered the city’s heritage (bio-heritage) and those who live within the archaeological areas, such as the Colosseum, the Pyramid or Largo Argentina, are also adorned with the title of Archaeologists.
In ancient Rome, cats were protected by the Goddess Isis and honored in temples, as evidenced by the findings in the Iseum Campense, a temple dedicated to Isis whose cult spread to Rome in the first century BC. From the excavations of the temple, built in 43 BC and destroyed by fire in 80 AD, derives the marble statue of a life-size cat, placed in the mid-nineteenth century on the stringcourse cornice of the sixteenth-century Palazzo Grazioli which overlooks (precisely) Via della Gatta. It is very likely that the cat represented Bastet, the goddess worshiped especially in Lower Egypt.
The location of the feline statue in such a particular position has given rise to many legends, including the particularly suggestive one that the cat’s gaze indicated the exact spot where a fabulous treasure would be buried.
It should also be noted that between Via della Gatta and Via del Collegio Romano, at a corner of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, to recall the position of the statue of Palazzo Grazioli, there is a votive shrine with a Madonna painted in 1796, known as the Madonna of the Immaculate Conception, who tenderly holds a cat in her arms.
But the close relationship between Rome and its strays does not end in the historical-artistic anecdotal. The large amount of small felines in the wild, scattered throughout the metropolis and in need of nourishment and care, has given rise to the traditional figure of the Cat Lady, a woman of heart who, with bags full of food, goes down to the streets to feed feline friends, ensuring their survival.
Among our most illustrious cat ladies is the intense film diva, Anna Magnani, who went out every night to feed the strays, even the now famous ones of Largo Argentina. A well-known director brought us an amusing anecdote, according to which a passerby rudely addressed the actress, who was difficult to recognize with a basket in her hand and a scarf on her head. She just took off her scarf, making herself known, and glared at him with her burning eyes. In Largo Argentina, in the place where Caesar was murdered, among the ruins of the ancient temples, the cats of the most famous refuge in Rome walk free.
The colony had formed spontaneously when, in 1929, the remains of the sacred area were brought to light and among the ruins, below street level, many strays had settled because they were more protected than on the street. Over the years, the place has become a destination for cat benefactors and cowardly abandonments of unwanted house cats.
Later, a theater actor obtained the use of a basement where he could protect the weakest animals and the food destined for the colony and had an enclosure built to keep the younger kittens away from the dangers of cars. When the actor died, seized by an illness just as he was looking after his strays, another actress took care of them with great effort, even financially, not only to feed and protect the cats of the historical area, but also to have them sterilized to control the number. When the case brought two extraordinary ladies, Lia and Silvia, to take care of the colony of Largo Argentina, there were 550 cats and the costs were huge. Thanks to their strenuous commitment, the financial aid given by foreign tourists and the support of an English animal rights association, the cats were all sterilized, freed from parasites and vaccinated and now the center is known above all for the sterilization campaigns.
In more recent times, sterilization is the main goal of associations and individual volunteers. The Animal Rights Office of the Municipality of Rome establishes cat colonies, governed by a series of regional laws. The gattara (Cat Lady), or the gattaro (Cat Man), become the legal owners of the colony and the cats are considered citizens of the Roman soil in all respects, with all the rights that follow.
Laura Luciani Italy Trails Blogger