Plan for McDonald’s at ancient Rome location scrapped

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Photograph artwork copyright © Travel Gazette.
Photograph artwork copyright © Travel Gazette.

A proposed plan to build a McDonald’s hamburger outlet near one of the most historic sites in the Italian capital was scrapped, emboldening protesters who opposed the plan.

Earlier this year, the large fast-food chain received preliminary permission to construct an 800-square-meter facility adjacent to the Baths of Caracalla, close to the Coliseum, Circus Maximus, the Imperial Roman Forum, and the Aurelian Walls that surrounded the ancient part of Rome.

The plan drew the ire of protestors, who, according to Italian news reports, called the plan a kind of “cultural imperialism” that would not respect the historical and cultural traditions of the baths.

This week, the permission was revoked. Italian Minister of Culture Alberto Bonisoli used social media to declare: “I inform you that the cultural ministry revoked authorization” for the outlet in the area near the Baths of Caracalla.

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi praised the decision, stating that “The wonders of Rome must be protected.”

The Baths of Caracalla had served as massive public baths. But the baths fell into disuse in the sixth century and now serve as a tourist attraction and home to occasional opera productions, concerts and plays.

Protestors put pressure on decision-makers to revoke the permission for construction in an area where strong restrictions on building are already in place.

“It wasn’t just a blow against fast food but an idea of how we want the city to evolve and grow,” Paolo Venezia, head of the Slow Food movement in Rome, told Xinhua. “We cannot allow a treasure like the Baths of Caracalla or any number of other places in the historical center of Rome to be home to unrestricted development.”

The Slow Food movement was founded in the 1980s from a group of food enthusiasts, academics, farmers, and public figures to oppose the 1986 opening of Rome’s first McDonald’s restaurant near the Spanish Steps. The McDonald’s opened despite the protests and it is still in operation, although plans for the facade of the restaurant were toned down in the wake of the protests.

Venezia said the fact that public pressure helped lead to the permissions for the McDonald’s at the Baths of Caracalla to be revoked show that the Slow Food movement and other like-minded groups have an important role to play.

“It’s a question of keeping things in perspective,” Venezia said. “We would have no problem if a traditional trattoria with the proper dimensions were going to be built near the Baths of Caracalla. But we cannot allow things to develop unchecked, and that would have been the case if that McDonald’s had been allowed to open its doors.”

Even without the Baths of Caracalla location McDonald’s has 40 outlets in Rome, local media reported, many of them near historical sites including the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps.

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