The best thing to see in Rome? Not what you think.

Happy puss at Rome's Cat Sanctuary Welcome to Rome’s most interesting sight. No, it’s not the Colosseum, nor the Pantheon, nor the completely overrun and overcrowded Spanish Steps. These ruins are crowded by low-impact residents and humans are only allowed in once a day.

The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary has got to be one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever heard of. Excavation in the early 1900s uncovered ruins of a sacred temple or two (who needs to be exact in Rome, the city that has pretty much stopped building anything because projects so frequently unearth ruins in need of protecting?), structures dating back to about 200 BC. These are the Sacred Ruins, supposedly the temple where Brutus stabbed Caesar.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, RomeNow they host an even older sacred being: the Cat Sanctuary is home to about 250 abandoned or ill cats who are fed, fixed, healed, and often sent out for adoption by two pretty visionary women. After all, it takes a lot to stand up to Rome’s stubborn government and demand that ruins be cut off from tourists and made to do something useful.

You can troop down the steps to visit the actual underground sanctuary any time during working hours, but you can only have a guided tour of the ruins once a day. The rest of the time, you can only look on enviously as some pretty happy cats enjoy sleeping on Caesar’s glories.

(Photos copyright Antonia Malchik 2008)

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