Italy Has Halted Construction on a McDonald’s That Would Have Opened Next to Rome’s Third-Century Baths of Caracalla

McDonald's broke ground on the project in 2018, but historic preservationists sounded the alarm.

A sign showing the direction of a McDonald's restaurant is seen with the cupola of St. Peter's basilica in the background, on January 3, 2017 in Rome. The US fast-food chain opened a restaurant in a Vatican-owned building despite protest of a Committee for the Protection of Borgo, the historic district around the Vatican where many cardinals live. Photo by Tiziana Fabi for AFP via Getty Images.
A sign showing the direction of a McDonald's restaurant is seen with the cupola of St. Peter's basilica in the background, on January 3, 2017 in Rome. The US fast-food chain opened a restaurant in a Vatican-owned building despite protest of a Committee for the Protection of Borgo, the historic district around the Vatican where many cardinals live. Photo by Tiziana Fabi for AFP via Getty Images.

Rome has put the kibosh on a plan to open a drive-through McDonald’s next to the Baths of Caracalla, a third-century historic site in the center of the Italian capital.

The American fast food chain had broken ground on the project after approval from ministry of culture came in 2018. But a media backlash prompted the city government to put a stop to the planned location, which would have joined 54 other McDonald’s restaurants in Rome—but would have been the first in the ancient quarter. The city center is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After the city took action, Italy’s culture minister, Alberto Bonisoli, reversed course by revoking permission for the construction. Rome mayor Virginia Raggi praised his decision, writing on Twitter that “the wonders of Rome must be protected.”

McDonald’s took the dispute to court and, now, Italy’s highest administrative court has upheld a lower court’s verdict preventing McDonald’s from continuing construction on the fast food restaurant, reports the London Times.

The Baths of Caracalla. Photo by Chris 73 (cropped), Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

The Baths of Caracalla. Photo by Chris 73 (cropped), Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

The ruling also allows the government to prevent future developments near important historic sites due to the “importance of protecting cultural heritage,” reports the Art Newspaper. This includes the “safeguarding of areas or real estate that have not yet been declared to be of cultural or landscape interest.”

McDonald’s was previously prevented from opening a location at the Piazza del Duomo in Florence in 2016, but was allowed to set up shop despite protests outside St. Peter’s basilica in Rome in 2017.

Another outpost in Rome went ahead even after the remains of an ancient Roman road were discovered during construction in 2014. The space was retooled to serve simultaneously as a museum, opening in 2017 with a glass-roofed gallery showcasing the ruins that can be entered from the restaurant as well as from the street.

Rendering of McDonald's planned located at the Baths of Caracalla. Courtesy of McDonald's.

Rendering of McDonald’s planned located at the Baths of Caracalla. Courtesy of McDonald’s.

The Caracalla McDonald’s was set to open in a former 32,000-square-foot garden center originally built in 1970. It would have included a playground and educational botanical garden, with the restaurant itself set to measure 8,600 square feet. The project was projected to cost €1.3 million ($1.47 million).

“As always, and in this case, McDonald’s met all national, regional and local laws and regulations,” the fast food giant told the Art Newspaper. It plans to open 200 new McDonald’s in Italy by 2025, adding to the 600 existing locations.

Built from the year 212 A.D. to 216 A.D. by the Emperor Caracalla, the baths were a marvel of the ancient world, featuring marbles, mosaics, and sculptures. Within walking distance of the Roman Forum and Colosseum, it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1980, and is now a popular tourist attraction.


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