It’s one of the most symbolic sites of Rome—for good and bad. The Largo di Torre Argentina, which sits in the historic city center between Piazza Navona and the Campidoglio, has been known as the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination for more than 2,000 years.
On March 15 44 BC (the “Ides of March”), Caesar was stabbed 22 times by conspirators outside the Theater of Pompey, Rome’s first permanent theater, which was built by Caesar’s great rival a decade earlier. He was killed at the Curia, or senate house, that formed part of the theater complex. Almost 2,063 years on, you can still see what remains of that building—a thick foundation of tufa stone—between two of the site’s four temples, built between the third and second centuries BC. Together—along with piles of carved stone from ancient columns and balustrades, and a medieval brick tower—they make up the largo (square), which sits about 20 feet below the current street level.
In recent years, though, Largo di Torre Argentina has come to symbolize something rather less epic: the decay of Rome. Permanently fenced off, with its ancient ruins looking more precarious by the day, it’s become known predominantly for its many bus stops (it’s a connecting point for a number of city routes) and its onsite cat sanctuary. In fact, the only living creatures currently able to access the “area sacra”—or “sacred area," as it’s called thanks to the still-standing temples—are the stray cats.
This week, however, mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi announced a restoration project that will see the area open to tourists by the second half of 2021. The work comes courtesy of local fashion house Bulgari, who have pledged €985,000 ($1.1 million) towards the project. “Rome is always the main source of inspiration for Bulgari,” Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari CEO, told reporters. “This site has an extraordinary value because it’s the oldest open-air spot in Rome.”
This isn’t even Bulgari’s first renovation rodeo—in 2016, they funded the restoration of the Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna , and in fact roughly half the money for the Torre Argentina site is coming from leftover funds from the former project. Fashion houses sponsoring restoration work is nothing new in Italy: in Rome alone, Fendi coveredthe renovations of the Trevi Fountain, and Tod’s has sponsored the mammoth project to restore the Colosseum.
Torre Argentina’s “very long and careful restoration," as Raggi described the work in a press conference Monday, will “restore the sacred area to all Roman citizens.” Walkways will be installed to allow visitors to “live the site more fully,” and there are plans to turn what’s currently a storeroom for archeological finds into a museum, and add lighting to allow night-time visits.
Largo di Torre Argentina was excavated in the 1920s by dictator Benito Mussolini, who—in an attempt to link his regime to the glories of the Roman empire—demolished swathes of modern buildings across the capital to reveal the archaeological remains below. But since then, it has largely been off-limits. Raggi herself has never set foot in the space before, she said, calling the project “the start of a new life” and a “gesture of love towards Rome."
Looking to visit? You needn’t worry about the cats—the sanctuary, technically located in one corner of the area sacra, is actually separated from the rest of the site by a ten-foot Roman wall (not even the volunteers can access the area with the temples). “The restoration will not affect the shelter,” volunteer Silvia Zuccheri told concerned feline fans via the sanctuary’s Facebook page.