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In the heart of Rome, just a few blocks from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona sits a historic site many tourists overlook. Largo di Torre Argentina — a busy square where lots of buses stop — doesn’t make it into many guidebooks. But it’s actually one of the city’s most significant sites.

History buffs will know it as the site where Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15, 44 BC — the Ides of March. He was stabbed 22 times outside the Theater of Pompey, which sits between two of the four temples in the square. Lying about 20 feet below street level, the archeological site has been off-limits for years: Except to a colony of stray cats.

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary opened in 1993 and a team of volunteers cares for them. They take in stray cats from Rome and the surrounding towns, and spay, neuter and vaccinate them. Last year, they spayed and neutered 6,174 cats and found new homes for 117 of them.

There are currently 130 cats at the sanctuary just waiting to be taken home. Some are blind or have other disabilities. One scrawny black cat, for example, only has three legs. Nowadays, the cats are the only living beings that can access the sacred area where ancient Roman temples once stood.

Earlier this year, Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi announced that fashion house Bulgari will renovate the ancient site and open it up to tourists by the end of 2021. “Rome is always the main source of inspiration for Bulgari,” Jean-Christophe Babin, the CEO of Bulgari, told Condé Nast Traveler. “This site has an extraordinary value because it’s the oldest open-air spot in Rome.”

This Roman kitty is ready for adoption. Photo by Laura Itzkowitz
This Roman kitty is ready for adoption. Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

The brand has pledged over $1.1 million to the project, about half of which was leftover from the 2016 renovation of the Spanish Steps. Not to fear, the cats and their sanctuary will be safe and unaffected by the restoration project.

The sanctuary is open 365 days a year from 12pm until 6pm and free to visit.

Featured photo by Laura Itzkowitz

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