Tucked into a corner of the Largo Argentina temple square in Rome, the cat sanctuary provides food and sterilization to hundreds of homeless cats. But critics say it besmirches the ruins.
It is located next to the exact spot where, according to legend, Julius Caesar uttered the immortal words "et tu, Brute?" But now, 2,000 years later, the ruined temples and fallen pillars of Rome’s Largo Argentina are caught up in a fresh, albeit rather less bloody, confrontation:
Should the historical site remain a shelter to hundreds of homeless cats?
Authorities in the city say that a cat refuge tucked into the corner of the architectural area should be closed because it is unhygienic and was built without any proper planning permission. The founders of the sanctuary argue they provide a vital service, taking in strays, sterilizing them, and giving them food and medicine.
The seemingly parochial row has caused uproar in the Italian capital, where Romans have lived side by side with cats since ancient times.
The cats – there were 250 of them this week – have free run of the adjoining archaeological remains and can be seen lounging in the sun on broken bits of marble, padding along fallen pillars, and dozing on the corrugated iron roofs which protect the monuments from the rain.
But heritage experts say the sanctuary, built on top of the pedestal of an ancient Roman temple, is an affront to an archaeological zone of world significance, right in the heart of the city.
The temple – and the cat sanctuary on top of it – is a few yards from where Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC. It is built inside a cave-like space beneath a staircase leading into the archaeological remains, a sunken area now surrounded by shops, apartments, a theater and a tram stop.