Archaeologists uncover evidence of what is being considered the Pompeii precursor to pizza. The fresco may be an “ancestor” of the modern pizza.
The flatbread depicted in the 2,000-year-old fresco “may be a distant ancestor of the modern dish”, Italy’s culture ministry said.
However, it lacks the classic ingredients to technically be considered a pizza.
Where was the Pompeii precursor to pizza discovered?
The fresco was found in the hall of a house next to a bakery during recent digs in Pompeii. The discovery was made during new excavations of Regio IX in the centre of the ancient city. The district (regio) is one of nine districts the site is divided into.
Partially excavated in the 19th century, digging at the building recommenced in January this year.
Archaeologists at the Pompeii Archaeological Park say the newly-uncovered fresco depicting the flatbread, may have been eaten with fruits such as pomegranates or dates. Further, it may have been dressed with spices and a type of pesto sauce.
Pompeii director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said it shows the contrast between a “frugal and simple meal” and the “luxury of silver trays”.
“How can we fail to think, in this regard, of pizza, also born as a ‘poor’ dish in southern Italy, which has now conquered the world and is also served in starred restaurants,” he said.
The skeletons of three people were also found near the oven in the working areas of the home in recent weeks, a culture ministry statement added.
The Pompeii site is only about 23km from Naples – home of the UNESCO-protected Italian pizza.
History of the modern pizza
The history of pizza begins in antiquity, as the fresco shows, when various cultures produced flatbreads with several toppings.
An Italian precursor of pizza was probably the focaccia, a flatbread known to the Romans as panis focacius, to which toppings were then added. It is likely the Pompeii fresco depicts the panis focacius or something similar.
Modern pizza evolved from similar flatbread dishes in Naples, Italy, in the 18th or early 19th century.
The most popular story around pizza says that on June 11, 1889, to honour the queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita”. It is a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to represent the national colours of Italy.
However, the Pizza Margherita already existed: “The most popular and famous pizzas from Naples were the ‘Marinara’, created in 1734, and the ‘Margherita’, which dates from 1796-1810. The latter was presented to the Queen of Italy upon her visit to Naples in 1889, specifically on account of the colour of its seasoning (tomato, mozzarella and basil), which are reminiscent of the colours of the Italian flag.” This is according to the European Commission register of traditional specialities.