Makers of fine jewelry and timepieces Bulgari has agreed to fund the restoration of the Area Sacra of the Largo Argentina to the tune of one million euros ($1,123,000). In 2014, the brand funded a €1.5 million restoration of the Spanish Steps. That was completed in 2016, and in a shocking development, there was €485,593 of that funding left when the job was done. Bulgari had agreed up front that any unused moneys would be relayed to another historical site in Rome among the countless number in dire need of care.
Bulgari and city officials have been working out what to do with the remainder of the donation since last year. Last month Rome mayor Virginia Raggi announced that the Area Sacra of the Largo Argentina was the lucky winner, and that Bulgari had chipped in an addition €500,000 to make the site fully accessible to visitors.
Attempted restorations to the Area Sacra are nothing new. The city has been at it off and on for a decade, starting a project when they’ve scared up a few ducats to only to stop abruptly when the coffers are empty again. The result is a confused mixture of weedy and garbage-strewn ruins with stacks of unlabeled stones. It’s a damn shame, and not so much because you can get a glimpse of part of the tufa foundations of the curia of Pompey’s Theater. That’s really more of a Julius Caesar-related marketing ploy. Yes, Caesar was stabbed to death in that general area. He walked up what is now the Via Arenula to the curia where Brutus, Cassius and the rest of the lean-and-hungry assemblage of assassins awaited him with concealed daggers.
But Pompey’s Theater was massive, extending from what is now Campo de’ Fiori to the Largo Argentina. Even when it was intact the curia was a comparatively small bit at the end of a 100-column quadriporticus, dwarfed by the amphitheater at the other end which was kind of the point of the exercise as Rome’s first permanent theater.
The overall significance of the site, and the reason the curia was used for senatorial business, are the four Republican-era temples whose remains still stand in the Area Sacra. It is the largest surviving section of Republican architecture in Rome. They range in date from the 4th to the 2nd century B.C., and the parts of them that managed to cling to life after centuries of quarrying and overbuilding were rediscovered in the early 20th century during works to modernize Rome’s infrastructure. Protective walls were built around the temple site and the piazza with its tram lines and wide roads was constructed with a big ol’ Republican pit in the middle.
Now that the Area Sacra of Largo Argentina has been selected as the recipient, concrete steps have to be taken to convert theoretical plans into practical plan of execution. Experts will need to study the site thoroughly, make specific architectural designs and invite bids from contractors for the new construction. None of that has happened yet. Right now, the preliminary plan is that the ruins will be secured, the randomly arranged architectural remains organized, two new walkways and an elevator will be installed to make the descent down the Republican level possible. The ambitious goal is for the project to be completed by mid-2021. We shall see.
Meanwhile, the big question that leaps to everyone’s mind, I’m sure, is what is to become of the cats? As an unabashed fan of the Largo Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, naturally I had to reach out to the fine folks who run it to get the real scuttlebutt on the refurbishment plans and the impact they might have on the sanctuary. Silvia Zerenghi confirmed that the sanctuary was not in any danger. About a month ago their lawyers were called and reassured that the revitalization project would not displace them, that the sanctuary would remain undisturbed in its current location.
So it seems the cats and their staff will be left alone, which is very much how they like it. All the same, the sanctuary is not resting on its laurels (getit?!). “We are always a little suspicious, of course,” says Zerenghi. “It is the feline nature, I think, we have learned,” and just like the adorable deadly predators it caters to, the sanctuary is fully prepared to hiss and bite should circumstances shift treacherously. The last time they were threatened with eviction, the sanctuary marshaled its supporters to call, email, blog and generally deluge the mayor, the Superintendence and the press with protests. All talk of eviction ceased and the status quo won the day. They’re ready to turn on the floodgates again at a moment’s notice. Clearly the lesson was learned thoroughly the first time which is why the government went out of its way to forestall any concerns the sanctuary might have before the news broke. Mess with the cat, you get the claws.