The Roman Cat And The Lost Catacomb

By Elisa Black-Taylor

Catacombs Rome

Catacombs Rome

The Roman Cat and the Lost Catacomb sounds like the title to an adventure film, much in the tradition of Indiana Jones. This is the true story of a stray cat in Rome who discovered a 2000 year old catacomb in Rome last week.

The adventure began around 10 p.m. on October 16 when Mirko Curti and a friend were chasing a stray cat away from his apartment complex in the Via di Pietralata neighborhood. This area is full of tufa rock cliffs as well as grottos, which the cat slipped into. The two men decided to follow the stray cat inside.


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The men slipped into one of the cliff openings and followed the cat’s meow Inside where they discovered Roman niches dug into the rocks, as well as human bones on the floor. The niches were typically used by the Romans to store ashes in funeral urns.

Archaeologists date the catacomb between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD. It’s believed that heavy rains in the Via di Pietralata area a few weeks ago loosened the tufa rock, making the entrance visible.

Many of the cliffs in this area have been heavily quarried over the years. Archaeologists believe the soft tufa rock collapsed, causing the human bones to fall into the funeral urn area of the catacomb.

This isn’t the first big discovery in Rome in recent years. Romans aren’t as thrilled with new archaeological discoveries as those of us who live in newer countries. They live on top of ancient ruins, and many times the excavation of new discoveries interferes with their daily routine. An ancient Roman road was recently discovered in the parking lot of an Ikea store outside of Rome. The city’s rugby stadium also has excavations going on nearby. A concert hall in Rome is built around an unearthed Roman villa.

Valentina Stefano from the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists recently told The Telegraph (UK):

“The Italian government is always talking about the importance of our culture and heritage, but the fact is they have been cutting funds for the sector.”

I would imagine the confederation is thankful the cat found the catacombs without charging a fee. I wonder if anyone will take the stray cat into their home for discovering this important historical site?

Curti has called this “the most incredible experience” of his life.

Comments anyone? I do have a comment myself. I wonder why the two men went to the trouble of following the cat they were trying to chase off? Ten o’clock at night seems a strange hour to go on a foot chase after a cat. People chasing cats make me nervous. Just saying…

Elisa


Comments

The Roman Cat And The Lost Catacomb — 24 Comments

  1. For me the interesting thing about this story is:

    • The Italians don’t seem to care that much about their ruins and history. I think they are of more interest to tourists and people from other countries.
    • The Italians don’t really care for their stray cats either! There are lots of feral and stray cats in Rome. When I visited and went to a restaurant the cats came around looking for scraps.
    • I agree with Elisa. What are they doing chasing cats at 10 pm? I really don’t think it is that big a discovery either. Just another catacomb and some Roman bones. Big deal….Hope the cat is OK. I am more interested in the cat.

  2. Here in Lebanon they have a saying that I can’t translate but it basically says don’t hurt a cat or something might happen to you. My husband told me a story about his neighbor who kicked a cat so hard that it flew in the air and landed on the roof of a gas station. I believe it didn’t survive. Next day this guy was shot (it was during the war here). It was over for him. I have no idea what kind of issues some people have to abuse a poor animal like that.

    One of the greatest cat lovers in history was Abu Hurairah, the Companion of Prophet Muhammad, and a great Muslim scholar. I even don’t know his original name, but Abu Hurairah literally means “the father of a kitten”. He always had a cat following him. Once a cat slept on his clothes while he was sitting giving a lesson. When he finished he didn’t want to bother the cat, so he simply cut off a piece of his clothes and walked away.

    • Hi Elena. Thanks for the comment. Muslims should be good to cats because of the story you tell. I hope they are. I don’t think the terrorist Muslims are good to cats because I am sure their bombs have killed some cats as well as people. Of course no one talks about the animals killed by stupid bombs that achieve nothing but hate.

  3. Americans excite easily. Most of us get excited when we find Indian arrowheads. I’d be all up in an excavation should it occur near me. About the most exciting finds we have around here are forgotten private cemeteries.

    I’m with you Michael. I should have been more excited about the find. Instead I was worried about why these men were chasing it. But I’m paranoid anyway.

    • History is important and historical artifacts are important to an extent. But there is an argument that says we should focus more on the present and make things better and free ourselves from the past. Sometimes history holds us back big time. There are endless examples of this. Rome is a bit like a museum. Paris is certainly like a museum because it was not bombed in WW2. London was bombed so bits are newish and that I think makes it a better city ultimately. It frees the mind and spirit.

      • I never thought of it that way, Michael. I like to learn about and then remember the past. But it’s true that what went before can never be as important as what is happening now. But what is happening now will someday be the distant past and forgotten. I drive by an old cemetery every day. There is a man buried there who outlived each of his four wives in turn. He married the sister of one of his wives. It was all for nought. All his wives died young. All his children too, the oldest being a son who was twelve years old when he died. I always think of him as I drive by, a life of such grief but all over now, and it doesn’t matter to anyone anymore– except to me, I suppose. The building next to the cemetery is a museum owned by the historical society. Within their archives is a letter written by that same man now buried in the cemetery upon the occasion of a family reunion when he was an old man. His letter is full of gratitude for God’s blessings on his family. You’d never think from what he wrote that the writer was a widower mourning four wives and many children. If you had stories like that available concerning the people buried in that Roman crypt, then it would be interesting. Without knowing anything about the people, I’d say it’s boring. History needs to be personal like that. It can’t just be looking at a bunch of ruins and remembering the dates of ancient battles and reigns of long dead kings– it’s better when we remember stories about individual, ordinary people.

  4. In another version of this story, the cat actually belonged to the man chasing her and he was trying to get her back. I don’t remember the source of this other version, but I do hope that the man had good intentions. Way too many depraved animal abusers out there. Hoping that the kitty is safe, warm, and happy…

    Regarding the archaeological find, I would be one of those right there all up into it, lol. I love this type of stuff.

      • Michael you live in an old country. Everything here is pretty much under 300 years old.

        I’m easily entertained. I can get excited over a pretty rock I find in the woods or at the lake. We had a man made lake almost dry up several years ago and we were able to explore the old homesites that had been under water for 50 years. That really excited me.

        You KNOW wandering old cemeteries is a favorite past-time of mine.

        Next visit you make to America you have to come see me. I’ll take you to Caesars Head and Caesars Asshole and you can see the mountains. Then we’ll visit Stumphouse Tunnel. But I drive ok?

        • You know I am just kidding (sort of). I like cemeteries too by the way. They are calm places and I see the lives of people before me and wander what it was like them. What were their lives like. They emphasis the transience of life.

          • I care for my great and great great grandparents graves. They’re in a private cemetery that my grandfather used to take me to before he died. Its quiet and surrounded by meadows. No one else in the family ever goes there. I change out the flowers on my parents grave and divide them between the 2 graves at the family cemetery. People leave little mementos on the stones and no one steals them. Its an awesome place.

          • I’m not kidding. Your next visit here I’m going to kidnap you and take you to Caesars Head and Caesars Asshole. The head has a gift shop where you can buy a bag of polished rocks such as amethyst. And yes I’ve purchase 2 bags from there because you get to choose the ones you want out of a bin. On the way down the mountain we’ll stop for the best burger you can find in my area.

        • I know what you mean about exploring dry lake beds, Elisa. Lake Delton drained twice– once it was planned and once because a flood caused a large area of land to wash away. There was an old stone bridge in the lake bed and you could see where there once was a road where they made the lake. Years ago a neighbor had a poem written by a woman right before the lake was made in the 1920’s telling how they would miss their trees and valleys but still welcomed the new lake. I wish so much I had asked for a copy!

          • Hartwell Lake was manmade in the early 1960s and two drought have almost dried it up in places. Once around 1986 then again around 2001 or so. Remains of old houses could be walked around and an island could be reached on foot. The area we explored is also the site where the preacher I wrote about in the black cat story would break up the sacrificial rituals. We never saw any old bones after the early 80s so I guess the people quit meeting there.

            Its a strange feeling walking around places that were underwater for decades.

            • Elisa,
              Jeff and I still want to get out to see you and Laura and all your cats one of these years when we have both money and time to do it. I’m bursting with curiosity now. Caesar’s A-hole? I’ve got to know what that’s all about!
              Ruth

    • I hope it was his cat. I hate to think someone was chasing it to harm it. But cat logic tells me chasing the cat won’t get it back home. Been there, done that. Cats come home when they’re ready to come home.

  5. I read or saw on TV recently that there is actually an organization in Rome looking after the Coliseum cats and at least feeding them–I think a TNR program is also underway. But I’m suspicious of those men following the cat too. I hope the diversion the clever puss provided threw them off his scent if they meant him harm.

    • The Colosseum cats are pretty famous and considered part of the place. The Romans do have one of the longest histories of domestication of the cat and they exported the domestic cat to other parts of Europe. They introduced the cat to Great Britain. But today I don’t think the average person is that fond of the feral cat in Rome.

  6. I dont like the fact they were chasing the cat either Elisa – it makes me nervous too. There is something totally wrong about that. Why was the cat meowing I wonder. Another odd part of the story that doesnt quite fit with being chased. All sounds suspicious to me. Rome is full of things underneath it. So are many other cities in Italy and beyond. I am more concerned about the cat than the catacombs.

  7. Elisa
    Your link showed Caesar’s Head State Park– so what’s Caeser’s A-hole? And why is something in the eastern US named for Caesar? Love the mountains– they make the bluffs around here look like nothing. That would be a great place to explore.

    • Its a sheer rock cliff on the other side of Caesars Head. I don’t think I made any photos of it. Its a more dangerous pull-off on a mountain road where the actual park has visitor parking and a gift shop.

  8. Elisa, I read your description of what you guys call Caesar’s A-hole to my husband and he burst out laughing. He said, “They sound like our kind of people,” meaning your sense of humor is as twisted as ours.

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