Well-known as the setting for Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of Italy’s most historic cities, home to magnificent theaters, churches, and castles dating back to the first century. But a recent attempt to preserve Verona’s cultural history is being called xenophobic by some critics.
“Thanks to this provision, there will be no more openings of establishments that sell food prepared in a way that could impact the decorum of our city,” said Flavio Tosi, Verona’s mayor, according to The Telegraph. “This protects not only our historic and architectural patrimony of the city center, but also the tradition of typical culture of the Verona territory.”
While risottos and pastas dominate Verona eateries, the doner kebab has become increasingly popular in Italy and across Europe. The Turkish sandwich piled high with meat roasted on a spit is a popular street food that’s nearly as ubiquitous as a slice of pizza or a hamburger in many European cities.
Officials have maintained that fast-food joints threaten Verona’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but others say the ruling is a way to discriminate against immigrants, many of whom are Muslim. A 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center found that more than 60 percent of Italians have a negative view toward Muslims living in their country.
Kebab shops have long been regarded as evidence of the growing presence of immigrants and Islam in the majority Catholic nation. In 2009, anti-kebab groups professing their preference for polenta over couscous started popping up on social media, and some Italian cities began to outlaw ethnic restaurants. The Tuscan city of Lucca and the beach town Forte dei Marmi banned new kebab shops from opening in their city centers, as did nearby Altopascio, where unknown assailants firebombed a kebab shop.
While some cities are cracking down on cuisine, some officials have plans to better protect the 1.6 million Muslims living in Italy. The nation’s top court struck down attempts to restrict informal religious gatherings in a set of “anti-mosque” laws earlier this week, Italy’s The Local reports. In January, the nation’s interior ministry established an advisory council of academics and experts in Islamic culture to help integrate the Muslim community and shape “Italian Islam.”