Italian archaeologists discovered a 2000-year-old fresco depicting what could be an ancestor of today’s pizza. The painting was found in the atrium of a house, partially explored between 1888 and 1891, located on island 10, Regio IX of the archaeological park of Pompeii.
Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the archaeological park, commented (via The Guardian) that, although some characteristic ingredients of the dish as we know it now are missing, what is depicted on that wall could be a distant ancestor of modern pizza, as key components such as tomato and mozzarella cheese did not arrive in Italy until the sixteenth century.
A 2000-Year-Old Pizza
The fresco seems to reflect the contrast between a simple and frugal meal with the luxury of silverware, with artistic refinements and literary representations. It is important to realize in this aspect, that pizza was born as a poor dish in the South of Italy and today has managed to conquer the world and be served in the best restaurants. He added that, since 2017, it is a dish considered a world heritage.
The painting, discovered at the entrance of an Ancient Roman house with an adjoining bakery, represents a “focaccia,” a flatbread on which various fruits seasoned with spices similar to pesto can be distinguished. It is arranged on a silver tray and accompanied by a glass of wine, dried fruits, a garland, dates, and pomegranates. A fruit with a strong resemblance to pineapple can also be seen. The composition of the dish depicted in the painting can be easily associated with the modern pizza, which currently has different versions, but is composed of a flat and rounded bread base to which different ingredients are added, among which tomato and cheese stand out. Its origin can be traced back to Neolithic times when the dough was cooked on hot stones.
Since the Stone Age, the basic composition of the dish has been present in different civilizations, including Chinese, Egyptian, and Roman. Today, Naples is considered the birthplace of contemporary pizza. Its proximity to the place where the work was found reinforces the idea that what is represented in the fresco may be an ancient tomato pizza.
The Margherita is one of the most popular presentations of this culinary preparation, being a traditional version that includes ingredients such as mozzarella, basil, tomato, and olive oil. The idea of adding pineapple or other fruits, as could be intuited in the fresco, is something that bothers many Italians.
We already knew that in ancient Pompeii there were varieties of flat doughs made with grains, water, salt, and perhaps beer as a leavening agent. They were probably served with vegetables or the fish of the day. It was an ancient form of pizza. Likewise, he mentioned that the fresco found is undoubtedly a representation of this dish.
Pompeii archaeologists noted the quality of the technique and execution of the image discovered. It was explained that this type of work was inspired by the gifts offered in Hellenistic times, according to Greek tradition. This type of representation was known in antiquity as “xenia” and was a reflection of the hospitality with visitors, they were also frequent in sacred environments.
The painting in question was surprised by its incredible preservation over the years. This fact finds its explanation in the large amount of ash that covered the ruins of many buildings in Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the city in 79 AD. This made possible the preservation of at least 300 pictorial works, found centuries later.
This story was written in Spanish by Verónica Sánchez in Cultura Colectiva News
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