A brief history of Cats in Venice


Chi potrebbe pensare che non ci sia un’anima dietro quegli occhi lucenti? (T. Gautier)

Felines in Venice have long been the object of both appreciation an awe.

The bond between the city and cats is ancient and well documented.

For centuries, Venetians have considered cats to be an essential asset to the safeguard of the city by using their hunting skills as a defense against rodents, dangerous for public health. Due to Venetians cats hunting abilities a florid cat commerce was born, they were valued by the number of rats they were able to hunt. The importance of cats for the population was such that even public auctions would be held showcasing glorious cats specimens vital to protect goods and the city from rodents.

During the Republic of Venice (697 b. C-1797 a.C) Venetian fleets would employ a crew of three to four cats to protect the vessels and their occupants from rats. They even had a cabin boy adept exclusively to look after their well-being and nutrition. Cats were part of the fleet, warrior sailors in their own right and a lucky charm.

On the advent of the Black Death cats became a weapon to fight against the advance of the disease. Even though Venetian cats, an autonomous race, have served well the city for centuries, they lacked the strength and stamina to fight against the diseased rodents that reached the Mediterranean shores on mercantile fleets returning from  Africa. As such a new breed was introduced, the Syrian cat, and aggressive and big sized cat renown for its fierceness and combativeness was mixed with the local “police force”, this led to a new breed in the struggle to eradicate the deathly threat.

The Black Death had a devastating impact on the European population, killing millions. Venice had huge losses, a third of the population, still cats are remembered to have been great allies in the war and good companions in the later years.

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