We had to be in the right spot. The GPS said so.
But as my daughters and I scanned the square after walking for what seemed like a really long time in temperatures in the upper 80s, there were no obvious signs of Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a shelter and cat colony.
Exasperation set in, with defeat a close step behind.
As we approached a railing that surrounded vestiges of ancient Rome, both to take in some history and to prop ourselves up, we saw them.
One sauntered around the ruins, pausing to survey his domain.
A second lounged on what likely was a temple.
A third quickly shot to the opposite side of the archaeological site.
We definitely were in the right spot.
Forging ahead, we circled the perimeter in search of the shelter. More than halfway around, we were greeted by a black cat that clearly liked people, or more specifically people's hands, judging from the purrs after the petting began.
Just a few feet away, we spotted a "Welcome" sign directing us down the stairs. (It wasn't easily visible from the other side of the square.)
I had read about Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary some years ago and vowed to visit on this trip, especially since I had my daughters with me.
More than 140 cats call Largo di Torre Argentina, the square, and the Area Sacra, the site of ruins that date to the fourth century B.C., home. Roman temples once stood here, and it's where Julius Caesar was assassinated.
The Associazione Culturale Colonia Felina di Torre Argentina works to feed, vaccinate and spay or neuter stray cats at Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary (one of more than 400 feline colonies in Rome) and take care of the ones that need extra TLC. (Some are blind. Some are deaf. Some have other medical conditions.) The healthy cats are free to go where they want, both inside the shelter and among the ruins. The disabled cats are kept indoors for their safety.
We interacted with a handful of cats in the main room, which also serves as the gift shop, and then asked if we could meet the "disabled" cats. A volunteer — one of roughly 15 who work in the shelter — happily led us to their room. I'm not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't a sad place. The cats seemed well loved and content. The volunteer knew all their names and stories and shared them with us in English. There were plenty of cat playthings.
With our feline fix satisfied in about 30 minutes, we decided to peruse the souvenirs. We settled on a canvas bag for 12 euros. (Credit cards are accepted, and I asked them to ring up the charge for several euros more, since donations are key to the operation's success.)
Outside, my daughters made fast friends with a black cat that they said would be all over me the minute I sat down. They were right. The cat was so friendly, lying in my lap and nudging my hand for constant attention, it was hard to leave. I encouraged a man nearby to take my place. (He did, and the cat was no less affectionate.)
It was nice to spend time with true locals (the cats and the volunteers), away from the hordes of visitors that flock to Rome's big tourist attractions.
I may virtually adopt one of the cats or simply make a donation, since the organization relies on the kindness of others. ("Our vets are saints," Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary volunteer Silvia Zerenghi wrote in an email.)
It's easy to get lost in Rome, but I've learned my way now. It helps that the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary shelter is right off Via Florida.
Contact Dawn Cate at [email protected]