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Mystic pizza! Pompeii fresco might show ancient 'pizza predecessor'

Archaeologists carefully excavate the wall where the ‘pizza’ fresco was found on the northeastern end of the archaeological park
Archaeologists carefully excavate the wall where the ‘pizza’ fresco was found on the northeastern end of the archaeological park Copyright Savin Mattozzi/Euronews
Copyright Savin Mattozzi/Euronews
By Savin Mattozzi
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While carefully sweeping away volcanic rock from one of the many homes in Pompeii, archaeologists found a fresco of a very familiar-looking food being served on a metal plate: a pizza.

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Although not technically a pizza and more of a round focaccia with toppings, this recent finds is probably one of the more striking depictions of the internationally famous food that has been found in recent years.

Alessandro Russo, an archaeologist working at Pompeii explains that although paintings of focaccia and other flatbreads with toppings exist in the archaeological park, this one bears an uncanny resemblance to what we now know as pizza.

“Even though it’s toppings are dried fruits and spices, it is extremely well defined and visually very similar to the pizza of today.”

Cultures across the Mediterranean region have been putting toppings on flatbreads for thousands of years but this recently uncovered fresco can be seen as a kind of ancestor to the modern pizza. 

The comparison is even more relevant when considering that Pompeii sits about 30 kilometers south of Naples, the birthplace of modern pizza.

The classic pizza as we know it today is made with two main ingredients that were not available 2,000 years ago when this painting was made. The first being tomatoes which were brought to Italy after Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 1500s and the second being mozzarella which would have become popular around the 1200s in the same region as Pompeii.

Savin Mattozzi/Euronews
Workers and archaeologists work to slowly reveal multiple finds in the same area as the so-called pizza frescoSavin Mattozzi/Euronews

The toppings on this proto-pizza include pomegranate and possibly dates with a spice mixture or a kind of pesto.

According to a press release by the Pompeii Archaeological Park, the flatbread is being served along side a cup of wine and other fruits in what appears to be part of a traditional Greek offering to guests that was common at the time of the painting.

Similar offerings are depicted in around 300 other frescos and artwork around the area of Pompeii in the southern province of Naples.

Russo adds that although this discovery is an exciting find, working in the archaeological park delivers a surprise daily. From the little things to big finds like this recent one, the humanity and quirks of people in the past come alive and form a bridge between our lives and theirs.

“Working here eliminates the time between our reality and their reality… it’s almost as if you don’t perceive that time has passed.”

Additional sources • MIC - Pompeii Archaeological Park

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