One of the most pivotal locations in Roman history, the site of the assassination of Julius Caesar, has just opened to tourists.
Known today as the Area Sacra, or Sacred Area, the site includes the remains of four ancient Roman temples, as well as what archaeologists have identified as the Curia of Pompey, where Brutus stabbed Caesar on a stone pedestal on the Ides of March in the year 44 B.C.E.
The Italian fashion house Bulgari, which previously funded the restoration of Rome’s Spanish Steps, helped pay to build walkways through the site, portions of which date back to the third century B.C.E. The project was first announced in 2019, and also includes an elevator connecting the sunken plaza to the street level, and nighttime illumination of the ruins.
The Area Sacra is located at the Largo di Torre Argentina, a square in downtown Rome christened in honor of a prominent 15th-century German cardinal from Strasbourg, France—called Argentoratum in Latin—who lived nearby.
Since the site was first uncovered in the 1920s, amid demolitions ordered by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, its ancient buildings have only been visible to tourists looking down from the sidewalk above. Over the past 2,000 years, the street level has risen thanks to layers of new construction.
Today, the Area Sacra is “one of the best-preserved remains of the Roman Republic,″ archaeologist Claudio Parisi Presicce, Rome’s Capitoline Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, said at the site’s ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, the Associated Press reported.
Archaeologists were able to identify the site of Pompey’s Curia thanks to the discovery of the remains of latrines, which matches description of the building in ancient texts, Parisi Presicce added.
There is still some debate about the other buildings on the site, but experts have identified them as the Temple of Juturna, the goddess of fountains; the Temple of Fortuna Huiusce Diei, or Fortune of the Present Day; the Temple of Feronia, a fertility goddess; and the Temple of Lares Permarini, believed to be dedicated either to the protectors of navigation or the nymphs. The Area Sacra also includes travertine paving stones installed by Emperor Domitian after Rome’s devastating fire of 80 A.D.
For 30 years, the Area Sacra has also been home to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter that currently houses 86 of the city’s stray cats. It’s run by volunteers known as gattare, or “cat ladies.” (Rome officially designated feral cats in the Forum, the Coliseum, and Torre Argentine part of the city’s “bio-cultural heritage” in 2001.)
The site’s feline residents will certainly be part of the attraction for tourists visiting the site, which costs just €5 ($5.44) to enter.
“I came here for the cats,” a local student named Marielena told the Guardian. “We’ve lived nearby for two years and wondered if we’d ever see it finished. The job’s been done really well, which makes us happy.”
The cats and archaeologists have not always had a happy coexistence, and the Culture Ministry even attempted to oust the cat colony about a decade ago. Thankfully, relations seem to have improved in recent years, and the cats were “good workmates” during construction at the site over the past two years, the site’s head archaeologist Monica Ceci, told the New York Times.
In addition to getting some quality time with the cats, visitors will be able to enjoy artifacts uncovered during excavations nearly a century ago, including a colossal stone head and a fragment of a winged angel of victory statue.
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