Cat Fight In Rome: Beloved Shelter Faces Closure
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Anyone who has visited Rome and its antique monuments has also seen their four-legged residents: the many stray cats that bask in the sun amid the ruins.
One site in central Rome is known as “cat forum,” thanks to its adjacent cat shelter. But Italian archaeology officials have issued the Torre Argentina Cat Shelter Association an eviction notice, and feline lovers from around the world are bracing for a cat fight.
The Roman ruins at Torre Argentina are an oasis in the middle of the city’s chaotic traffic. The site is dotted with the broken columns of four ancient temples. It was here, at a theater designed as a meeting place for politicians, that Julius Caesar is said to have been stabbed by Brutus.
But tourists and passers-by seem more fascinated by the site’s contemporary residents. “People are interested more in cats than in monuments,” says Lia Dequel, one of the shelter’s founders. “The two together are fantastic … because monuments come alive if you see a cat lying on it, or jumping from one pillar to another.”
Now, two decades after the shelter was created, national archaeological officials say it’s illegal and must go — although the cats themselves can stay.
Dequel is dismayed. “If I leave these cats here, who sterilizes them? They wouldn’t go to doctor and say, ‘Hi, doctor, sterilize me,’ or ‘vaccinate me,’ or [to] be fed.”
A Cat Shelter With A Star-Studded Past
In 1994, Dequel and her friend, retired opera singer Silvia Viviani, took over what had for decades been an improvised cat shelter. It began in the 1950s, when a Shakespearean actor from a nearby theater somehow got the key to the old warehouse where archaeologists kept their tools. The actor, Antonio Crast, loved cats and used the space to store cat food.
In fact, Crast loved cats so much he wanted to die among them. Lo and behold, it is said that he had a heart attack right here, inside the ruins among his beloved felines.
The warehouse key was passed on from one person to another, mostly cat lovers connected with the theater. “There is a link between cats and actors,” says former soprano Viviani. She notes that the great film star Anna Magnani, who lived nearby in Palazzo Altieri, was one of the most famous cat ladies who brought pots of pasta to feed the Torre Argentina cats. “And cats have always been the inspirational muse of artists,” Viviani adds. “Just think of Baudelaire and Hemingway.”
The shelter’s premises are located in an underground storage area excavated under the street in the foundations of a temple. But today, the Torre Argentina Cat Shelter Association is no longer a primitive, damp cave. Over the years, Dequel and Viviani convinced city authorities to provide the shelter with electricity and running water — although they still don’t have a sewage system.
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yes rome was not
built in a day,
this loving cat
the seven hills
Karen Lyons Kalmenson