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Italians Decry Rome's Invasion Of McDonald's And Cheap Souvenir Shops


Rome - the Eternal City has survived almost everything. Here's a quick summary. The Roman Empire came. Hannibal attacked with elephants. Caesar was knifed. Nero watched the city burn. The Vandals sacked the city. The Roman Empire fell. A couple thousand years past. The Colosseum was used as a stone quarry, Mussolini, Silvio Berlusconi, and through it all Rome is still there. But now Romans are rising up against one thing they cannot endure. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: With its dazzling vistas of ancient ruins, Renaissance churches and baroque fountains, Rome is a huge open air museum of 25 centuries of the life and deeds of Western civilization. Each epoch plundered the previous one creating a mysterious and fanciful chaos. But many of the contemporary additions are just too much. There's rising anger over cheap restaurants, faux Irish pubs and tacky souvenir stands that have replaced old artisan workshops, bookstores and mom and pop groceries that can't afford rising rents. This week, dozens of intellectuals, cultural associations, environmentalists and neighborhood committees wrote a letter to UNESCO asking the U.N. agency to safeguard the city's cultural heritage and combat its commercial exploitation.

They write (reading) we can no longer stand this ugly, wounded, vulgar, dirty, raped, invaded besieged Rome.

The letter bewails, quote, "horrible souvenir shops that disfigured the city of the Caesars and pope's from the Vatican to the Trevi fountain to Piazza Navona." It denounces the proliferation of tourist-friendly food factories that in recent years have risen from 1,400 to 4,000. Many are fronts, the letter claims, for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The most intense indignation was sparked by the opening of a McDonald's around the corner from the baroque jewel Piazza Navona and also plans to open another in Borgo Pio, just outside St. Peter's Square in a Vatican-owned building. Separate from the UNESCO letter, local residents wrote Pope Francis complaining the fast food outlet will harm the neighborhood's atmosphere. And there are unconfirmed reports a group of cardinals who live in the building have also written to the pope expressing concern over the arrival of the new tenant. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.