Did you know...? Rome's cats have special protected status

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Did you know...? Rome's cats have special protected status
Rome's stray cats are particularly pampered. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Rome has a special love for its free-roaming feline population - with some of the city's historic sites given over as dedicated cat sanctuaries.


Stray cats have been a feature of Rome since ancient times. Some say the city's affinity for felines dates back to Julius Caesar's conquest of Egypt in the 1st century BC, as Romans became infected by the Egyptians' reverence for cats.

According to Rome city authorities, carbon dating shows there was a cat colony in Trajan's markets as early as 400AD - meaning cats have lived on the site for at least 1,600 years.

READ ALSO: Did you know...? Rome is home to a pyramid

There was a period in the Middle Ages when cats in the Eternal City, like much of the rest of Europe, fell somewhat out of favour as they became associated with witchcraft and the devil.

But they soon regained popularity, and by the early 20th century the city was full of gattare, Roman citizens (mainly women) who took responsibility for feeding and caring for stray cats (the film actress Anna Magnani was a proud gattara).

READ ALSO: Italian expression of the day: 'Gattara'

Cats roam free among ancient Roman ruins in the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Today there are over 5,000 cat colonies registered with health authorities in Rome; one of the most famous being the sanctuary among the ruins of Torre Argentina, the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. 

This one has its own website where you can read the stories of all the resident cats, allows you "adopt" one of the cats long distance, and welcomes visitors between 12pm and 4.30pm every day.


Last June, Rome city authorities officially recognised the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary and another refuge on the grounds of Piramide Cestia, Rome's lone surviving ancient pyramid, as protected colonies with special status.

Rome isn't the only part of Italy where cats are protected: a 1991 Italian law says that stray cats should be neutered by their local health authority and returned to their colony, that it's illegal to mistreat them, and that they may only be put down if they have an incurable illness.


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