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Site Where Julius Caesar Was Stabbed Will Finally Open to the Public

The curia in Pompey’s Theater where Caesar died in the Largo di Torre Argentina is currently a fenced-off feral cat colony

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smithsonian.com

The spot where Julius Caesar was murdered by members of the Roman Senate is one of the most infamous sites in world history. As a tourist spot, however, it’s infamous in a different way: The ruins in the Largo di Torre Argentina, where dozens of stray cats now call home, are currently crumbling and fenced off from the public. But that's set to change. Julia Buckley at Conde Nast Traveler reports the area will soon undergo renovations before opening to the public in 2021.

Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, announced that the restoration is being funded by the fashion house Bulgari, which will drop about $1.1 million on the project, funding earmarked to go toward cleaning up and securing the ruins, building walkways through the site and installing public restrooms, TheLocal.it reports.

Though the spot of Caesar’s murder was immortalized by ancient historians and, later, William Shakespeare, it was actually covered over by the expanding city of Rome and lost to history until the 1920s. That’s when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini razed many sections of modern Rome to unearth the archaeology underneath to tangibly tie his dictatorship to the might of the Roman Empire. The propaganda effort uncovered four temples and part of the Theater of Pompey, a massive public work where the Roman senate met during the era of Julius Caesar.

Following World War II, the Largo di Torre Argentina was among the many sites that languished due to lack of interest and funding. In recent years, economic stagnation, corruption and disfunction have plagued Rome, leaving little resources available for now badly needed historic preservation projects. In search of funders, the city has started partnering with prominent businesses on the projects, who can foot the bills for restorations. Bulgari itself previously paid $1.6 million to restore Rome’s famous Baroque-era Spanish Steps. The fashion house Fendi, meanwhile, funded a clean-up of the Trevi Fountain, and the luxury brand Tods paid for half of the massive restoration of the Colosseum, which reopened in 2016.

The site of Caesar’s death is not where casual readers of Roman history might assume. In many ways, dying on the doorstep of Pompey’s great public work was ironic. For centuries, the Roman senate met in the Curia, or meeting house, on the Comitium, ancient Rome’s primary open-air meeting space. While the senate house experienced several fires and restorations over the generations, changing names depending on who paid to rebuild it, it was always in the same location. But in 52 B.C., Publius Clodius Pulcher, the rabble-rousing tribune of the plebs and Caesar’s ally against the senatorial class, was killed by his political rival Milo following several years of what was more or less gang warfare on the streets of Rome. His rowdy followers decided to cremate his body in the senate house, burning it to the ground in the process.

Caesar took on the task and expense of building a new senate house that he named, of course, after himself. But building the Curia Julia took time, so the senate temporarily moved to the Curia Pompeiana, part of Pompey the Great’s massive public theater. Pompey, once Rome’s most accomplished general and one of its richest citizens, had, notably, been defeated by Caesar in a civil war in 48 B.C. before being murdered in Egypt by Caesar’s allies.

After taking on the title of dictator and committing Rome to an expensive and many believed foolhardy plan to conquer the Parthian empire in the east, many senators believed killing Caesar was the only way to re-establish republican traditions and the rule of law. That sentiment came to head in 44 B.C. when, on the Ides of March, a group of senators stabbed him to death in Pompey's Curia. The republic was not instantly restored as they planned—instead the assassination set off events leading to Julius Caesar’s great nephew, Octavian, becoming Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome. He completed work on the Curia Julia and moved the senate back to its traditional home, though the legislative body was essentially just an imperial rubber stamp in the centuries that followed.

Plans to restore the site of Caesar’s death have fallen through before. In 2012, Jennie Cohen at History.com reports, Spanish archaeologists claimed they found the exact spot where Caesar was killed in the ruins at Largo di Torre Argentina, and that a restoration effort would be undertaken in 2013. But that project never materialized.

Now, Bulgari is on board to see the project through. But a big question remains: What will happen to all the cats—which we assume are the reincarnations of the Roman senators who conspired against Caesar—once the Largo di Torre Argentina is refurbished?

Luckily, cat colony volunteers who care for the felines already have an answer. “The works will not disturb the historic feline colony, otherwise protected by the laws of the State and the Municipality,” volunteer Silvia Zuccheri assures TheLocal.it. That’s good news, otherwise there might be another meowtiny ahead.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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