2018 Michelle here: I love, love, love kitty cats. I love cat cafes and attractions that feature cats. The cat sanctuary in Rome was my first experience with a ‘cat attraction. While I don’t know the feline situation in Rwanda, I’m hoping to see the big cats while abroad, perhaps while on vacation in Tanzania?
There are two kinds of people in the world: cat people and dog people. And cat people are way more interesting than dog people. And if you can’t tell by that statement, I am a cat person. Big cats. Little cats. Basically if you are in the feline family, I love you. And Rome is a cat’s paradise. Hundreds of cats haunt the place where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.
Known as Largo di Torre Argentina, this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts in 1929, revealing extensive multi-level temples that lie sunken 20 feet below modern street level. Besides several different temples, Torre Argentina also contains part of the famous Theater of Pompey, upon whose steps dictator Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed. Today, volunteers at Torre Argentina care for approximately 250 cats. After the site was excavated, Rome’s feral cats moved in immediately, as they do all over the city, and the gattare, or cat ladies, began feeding and caring for them. Since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to the current 250, and the organization has ramped up with care for sick or wounded cats, as well as an extensive spay and neuter program to keep the feral population in check. Most of the permanent residents have special needs – they are blind or missing legs or came from abusive homes.
On any given afternoon a small crowd gathers here to watch the cats sunbathe on ancient pillars and steps. At first it may be hard to spot the cats, but once you start to see them, they are everywhere.
Also, in my next life, I plan to come back as either a pampered house cat like Lucy or Molly, or if I can’t get that gig, I would like to be one of Rome’s pampered felines–I mean lounging around ancient architecture having someone to come feed me every day– what’s not to love about that?
It’s October…one of my favorite months. For starters, college football is in full swing. Baseball is in its play-off period. European football has gotten over its opening schedule shockers, and ice hockey starts up at the end of the month. It’s also one of my favorite seasons for traveling. For a few years, I took the month of October off from work and traveled, and those were some of my best trips. The weather is nice …cool, but not cold…surprising warm days mixed in, and Halloween…my favorite holiday of the year.
So to celebrate my favorite month of the year, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite cemeteries in the world. I LOVE, love, love, visiting cemeteries. [and I love cats…any coincidence that cats like to hang out a cemeteries….I think not] They fascinate me [cemeteries not cats]… Fancy ones like Pere LaChaise in Paris and Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Solemn ones like Arlington National just outside Washington DC and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Old ones like Magnolia in Charleston, SC and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia. Eclectic ones like merry cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, and the Mayan cemetery in Xcaret. Odd ones like the crypt of the Capuchin monks in Rome… None of it matters. If I hear of an ‘interesting’ cemetery…whether its old and crumbly or happy and bright or austere and serene, I’m there.
Some of my favorite final resting places from around the world
1. Pere-LeChaise Cemetery, Paris France
I spent a day in Paris. I know what you are saying…’Only one day, impossible’, but it’s true. I watched fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and hung out with the dead. Paris is awesome.
2. Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina
years ago, I was in Buenos Aires. It was my birthday. Instead of doing something fancy like going to a tango show, I went to Recoleta and hung out with the dead. And the cats.
3. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA
I stand up straighter and walk a little taller when I visit Arlington. It’s impressive, quiet, and simple. American soldiers. Clean white tombstones. A Marine guard. It doesn’t get more solemn than this.
4. Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic
On a snowy day in January 2013, I visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague. I think I was the only living thing around.
5. Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina
Southern cemeteries are awesome. Spanish moss hanging down gives everything a spooky appeal, and the humidity makes everything rust and age rather quickly.
6. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia
They say Bonaventure is haunted. If you go there at night, it certainly feels that way.
7. Mayan Cemetery, Xcaret, Mexico
Confession time: this is a fake cemetery. It’s a creation of what a lot of Mexican cemeteries do on El Dia de los Muertos….this one is a lot cleaner, though. The Mayans didn’t actually bury their dead.
8. Merry Cemetery, Săpânţa, Romania
It’s happy. It’s bright. It’s weird. Go there. See for yourself. These dead peeps are having the time of their lives.
9. Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, Rome, Italy
Eerie. Spooky…Bone-chilling…Fascinating…I wonder if the Monks know their bones are being used as decorations. I’m not a Monk, but I’d love to donate my femur [you know, once I’m done with it] for a clock or better yet, the handle of the scythe of the Grim Reaper
10. Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy
Morbid statues. Fascinating pageantry. Marble slabs of decaying flowers. Ingenious.
11. Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines
If heaven is up, and hell is down, wouldn’t you rather be hanging on the side of a cliff instead of buried in a hole?
12. Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia
Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov, Gherman Titov…I’m a bit fascinated with Russia and the dead Russians. If you can’t qualify for the Kremlin, Novodevichy is a fantastic second choice.
13. Hallstat Ossuary, Hallstat, Austria
Oooh…more bones….since I’m donating my femur to the Monk, the Ossuary can have my skull, but only if they paint a pretty design on it.
Unpacking is never ending. I was recently going through some of my boxes, and found photos and other mementos of my trip to Rome [and Italy] over 10! years ago. Time flies when you’re busy traveling the world, writing a blog, going to graduate school,working an actual real job, and doing all the other things that occupy life.
Anyway… I came across a little statue I had bought of Romulus and Remus… which got me thinking [it’s always the smallest details…] when EXACTLY was Rome founded. And so I did a little sleuthing and discovered a bit about Rome’s discovery. [Because, yes I am #ahistorynred]
I remember snapping this photo at one of the [many] museums I visited in Rome. I remember the guide telling us the story of Romulus and Remus. I remember the cold, the rain outside, and it didn’t matter how long the tour lasted I was there until it quit raining. Yes, I had an umbrella and raincoat, but it was COLD and I don’t like the cold. So museum-ing I went.
According to one story, the founder was a Trojan hero, while another tells of 2 brothers fighting it out for the prize. Whatever the truth, Rome celebrates its birthday – known as Il Natale di Roma, the Birth of Roma – on 21st of April, and has done so for 2770 years.
Our Trojan hero, Aeneas, achieved fame fighting the Greeks in the Trojan Wars. He was son of the goddess Venus and a mortal father. He escaped Troy before the death of Laocoon and the destruction of the city in 1220 BC. And according to Roman poet Virgil, Aeneas then went on a bit of a wander before finally landing in Italy. Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid, [which I have never even attempted to read] written between 29 and 19 BC, stretches over 12 books and 9896 [wow, count them!] lines of dactylic hexameter rhyme.
The first six books tell the story of Aeneas’s wanderings from Troy to Italy. The second six books describe his victory in battle in Latium. The victorious Aeneas set up home in Latium and married the daughter of a local ruler, King Latinus. How and when Aeneas set up Rome is a bit vague, but Virgil and the Ancient Romans saw him as their ancestor, founder and, most importantly, a link back to the legends of Troy and ultimately, therefore, the gods. And historians of the day recorded that Aeneas named his new city “Rhome”, meaning strength. But sadly for Virgil and Aeneas, however, there is a more popular founding tale that has taken over; the story of the she-wolf and the twin brothers.
While Virgil’s story certainly is plausible, I prefer the other story.
Before we can get to the boys, though, we need to backtrack a bit. Their story starts with King Numitor of Alba Longa, an ancient city of Latium. Numitor, son of King Procas was a descendant of our old friend Aeneas. On his father’s death, Numitor inherited the throne. Unfortunately for him, his brother Amulius coveted the position. In 794 BC, he overthrew the new king, and murdered his sons in order seize power for himself.
Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, was forced to become a Vestal Virgin. The pagan god Mars, however, had other ideas as he had fallen in love with the new priestess and decided to sneak into her temple to sleep with her. Rhea bore him beautiful twin boys and named them Romulus and Remus and so the story begins. Still with me?
Amulius was furious, as any evil uncle would be, and promptly threw Rhea into the River Tiber [sarcasm font: because it’s ALWAYS the woman’s fault]. Fortunately the river’s waves caught her, she married the river god who saved her.
The twins were similarly thrown to the river’s mercy. Set adrift in a reed basket, the babes floated gently downstream until finally being caught in branches of a fig tree at the bottom of a hill named Palatine in honor of Pale, goddess of shepherds.
And this is where the story gets a bit unusual. According to legend, the she-wolf, an animal held sacred to Mars, found the twins, fed them until a shepherd arrived and took them home to his wife. Over the years, the twins grew up knowing their story. In 753 BC, at 18, they decided to start a new city near to the site of the fig tree that had caught them. Sadly, they couldn’t agree on which of 7 hills in the area that they should build. Romulus favored the Palatine hill whilst Remus preferred the Aventine. Kids!
So to settle the argument the twins turned to religion. They read signs from the gods to resolve the fight. The boys took the presence of birds on the hills as an indication of favor and so Palatine won. Romulus saw 12 birds on his hill whilst Remus only saw six on his.
You’d think that after all the family conflict down through the years the boys would have learned how to play nicely. Sadly, they did not. Remus teased his brother by repeatedly jumping over the low settlement boundary. And whether in jest or jealousy, his actions represented a bad omen for the new city suggesting that the city’s defenses could be easily overcome.
Romulus took the jeering badly. The joke finally turned sour when Remus was murdered either by his own brother or one of his followers on 21 April 753 BC, 2770 years ago!
Temple of Rome…not Temple of Reme
The victorious Romulus named his new settlement – Rome – after himself. He oversaw the growth of his new city, and captured Sabine to help populate his dream. There’s no record of when or how Romulus died. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Romulus may have vanished in a violent storm in 717 BC at 53. The Romans clearly still venerated Romulus though, and declared him a deity after his death.
So Happy 2770 th birthday, Roma. You don’t look at day over 2000.