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  • Nicolas Huber

The history of the Pizza

Whether it's topped with pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, pineapple – or left plain, pizza is a dish nobody can resist. Pizza is one of, if not the most loved dishes around the world, given its versatility, but it wasn’t always the hearty dish we know and love today. In this article I will present to you, the history of how we got to the modern pizza.


Earlier forms of the modern pizza were made all throughout antiquity, with one of the earliest

records showing a reference to a pizza-like food in the Aeneid, a Latin Epic Poem written between 29 and 19 BC. It tells of Aeneas, a Trojan Hero, being served round cakes topped with cooked vegetables. Yet another, even earlier form of the pizza, was made in the 6th century BC by Persian soldiers serving under Darius the Great. They would bake flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields.


Although today the term ‘pizza’ brings pretty much the same image into someone’s mind, pizza was first considered poor people's food, consisting of a ‘gallete’, a round, cake like pastry usually filled with a savoury filling. It was only after the Spanish brought over Tomato seeds from the Americas, that the modern conception was created.


Another fascinating fact is that until the late 19th or 20th century, pizzas were sweet rather than savoury! Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook “La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte di mangiar bene”, published in the early 20th century contained three different versions of pizza, all of them sweet. After some reader advice, he later published a typed sheet in 1911, including a version of pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, anchovies and mushrooms, called “pizza alla napoletana”.

The evolution from the early flatbread to the modern pizza couldn’t have been done without the tomato. Although at the time some Europeans though it was poisonous, it was common that the poor around Naples would add tomatoes to their flatbreads and thus the Pizza began. The pizza was a hit in Naples! According to documents discovered by historian Antonio Mattozzi, by the early 19th century, only 54 Pizzerias existed in Naples. By the second half of the 19th century that number had grown to 120.


In Naples there were two other figures connected to the lucrative Pizza trade: The Pizza Hawker (pizzaiuolo ambulante) and the seller of Pizza (a oggi a otto). The pizza Hawker did not make the Pizza but sold it to hungry customers. The seller of Pizza would not only bake, but also sell the Pizza for a payment every seven days. Illustrated on the right is a ”pizzaiolo” (Pizza Baker) by Civica Raccolta delle Stampe « Achille Bertarelli » 1830.

Pizza today has many different forms from the pizzas in Naples, which are soft and pliable, to the thin and crispy Pizzas of Rome to the “pizza al taglio”, a pizza baked in a rectangular tray sold by weight and to think that it started out as a simple flatbread with basic toppings to becoming a hit around the world is a truly magnificent feat.


written by Nicolas Huber


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