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Cats set off a culture clash

By Elisabetta Povoledo | China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2012-11-25 09:52

Cats set off a culture clash

Officials are trying to dislodge a cat shelter inside Roman ruins. The cat shelter near a structure from the second century B.C. draws tourists. Photographs by Paolo Marchetti for the International Herald Tribune

Strays caught between tradition and legality


Cats have prowled the streets of Rome since ancient times, more recently finding refuge with an association of volunteers who have lovingly tended to thousands of strays over the years amid the ruins of a site where Brutus is thought to have stabbed Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.

The shelter, in an underground space abutting a cherished archaeological site, consists of several bright, cage-lined rooms that hold dozens of strays and has gained fame - and donations - as a tourist attraction.

But after a couple of decades of tolerated, if not authorized, occupancy, Italy's state archaeologists have told the association that it has to go, saying the illegal occupation risks damaging a fragile monument. The cat lovers have no intention of leaving.

"If they want war, we'll give them war," warned Silvia Viviani, a retired opera singer and one of the founders of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary association. "The cats need us."

What has ensued is a fight that has drawn in a host of city officials, elicited a flood of e-mail from upset cat lovers and revealed a deeper clash between tradition and legality.

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