McDonald’s has about 600 locations in Italy. In a country known worldwide for its famous and well-developed culinary traditions, it may be surprising that there’s a demand for American-style fast food, even if it’s just for the novelty. But McDonald’s has gotten rather audacious over the past few years, insisting that they have access to better real estate for their outlets. This came up again recently when plans for a new McDonald’s location in Rome were thrown out since it would have been too close to important historic sites, namely the famous Baths of Caracalla.
In 2018, Italy’s Ministry of Culture approved the construction of a new 10,000-square-meter drive-through McDonald’s near the Baths of Caracalla, situated right near Caffarella Park and the start of the Appian Way. The Baths are one of Rome’s most famous archaeological sites, situated just a kilometer south of the Colosseum. In the third century CE, they were built by the emperor Caracalla, serving as a public bathhouse for nearly three hundred years. The new location near the baths would have been right in the middle of the UNESCO Historic Centre of Rome, a 20 square kilometer protected world heritage site containing thousands of archaeological sites. While the plans were originally approved, public outcry led to the mayor of Rome putting a stop to construction. McDonald’s subsequently sued and, just last week, the country’s highest administrative court ruled against McDonald’s.
Surprisingly, this is a historic moment since McDonald’s has often gotten their way when they wanted to set up shop uncomfortably close to an Italian historic site. Back in 2017, the construction of a location in the Roman suburbs became mired in controversy because it was on the site of an ancient road. The project was only approved after McDonald’s spent €300,000 creating a “museum-restaurant”. Glass floors and galleries allow diners to observe the ruins below them as they dig into their burgers. The same year, McDonald’s built another outlet just off Saint Peter’s Square despite protests from Catholic cardinals. The last exception, when McDonald’s had their plans ruined, was in 2016 when McDonald’s sued the city of Florence for $20 million after their application was denied to build an outlet next to the Duomo Cathedral. A statement from the company called the denial the result of “discriminatory regulations that damage the freedom of private initiative”.
The recent administrative court’s ruling came as a shock because not only did it order McDonald’s to drop its plans for the location near the baths, but it gives the Culture Ministry the right to intervene in any new construction if it may compromise the integrity of a historic site. Maybe that’s for the best. Despite hundreds of locations across the country, Italy has seemed to not latch onto McDonald’s the same way that French and British markets have. Even with the relative lack of popularity, plus this new court ruling, McDonald’s still plans on opening an additional 200 Italian locations within the next three years.