The barbarians are invading Rome — again.
At least, that's the complaint of a group of Italian intellectuals protesting the "siege" of the city's cultural sites by outside enemies such as McDonald's and cheap souvenir shops.
Some 170 people have signed their names to an open letter appealing to UNESCO for help in combating the "commercial exploitation" of the ancient city.
"We can no longer stand this ugly, wounded, vulgar, dirty, raped, invaded, besieged Rome," the letter reads.
"The spark of the protest is the invasion of fast-food joints, pubs and cheap souvenir shops that have replaced old artisan workshops, bookstores and corner grocery stores," NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports. "In the last few years, the number of food and pub joints has risen from 1,400 to 4,000."
The letter cites "horrible souvenir shops" as well as cheap restaurants, and it accuses some of the shops of being fronts for money laundering. But the primary objection is to the aesthetic degradation of "vulgar" stores replacing beautiful, traditional ones.
One business is named specifically, at the very beginning of the letter — one very familiar to Americans.
Sylvia has some context:
"The most intense indignation has been sparked by the opening of a McDonald's around the corner from the Baroque jewel Piazza Navona, and plans to open another McDonald's just outside St. Peter's Square in a Vatican-owned building.
"Italian media reported last week allegations that a group of cardinals who live in the building have sent a letter of protest to the pope himself."
The indignant and heartbroken letter writers say the city's own authorities are responsible for the "scarring" of Rome, which is why they're turning to UNESCO. They're asking the U.N. agency to monitor the situation and to protect the cultural heritage of Italy's capital.