Italians are known for their love of pizza – and now archaeologists may have discovered a painting that depicts what might be its precursor in Pompeii.
Situated just 23 km (14 miles) from Naples, the present-day hub of authentic Italian pizza, Pompeii remains closely tied to the culinary heritage of the iconic dish. The eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D destroyed Pompeii; the sudden and deadly event left much of these structures intact, embalmed in volcanic ash, and this site is now a major archaeological project and tourist attraction.
The discovery was made during new excavations of Regio IX in the centre of Pompeii, where the fresco was found in the hall of a house next to a bakery during recent digs this year at the site in southern Italy, aimed at halting years of decay and neglect, largely thanks to a recently concluded €105 million (US$114.85 million) EU-funded project.
Italy’s culture ministry said the flatbread depicted in the 2,000-year-old fresco ‘may be a distant ancestor of the modern dish’. Archaeologists assume that the flatbread portrayed in the fresco, next to a wine goblet, may have been eaten with fruits such as pomegranate or dates, or dressed with spices and a type of pesto sauce, the ministry added.
This is because it lacks the classic ingredients to technically be considered a pizza, with tomatoes and mozzarella not available when the fresco was painted some 2,000 years ago.
According to the archaeological park, the fresco is believed to refer to the "hospitable gifts" that were offered to guests at the time, following a Greek tradition dating back to the Hellenistic period (3rd-1st century BC).
Tomatoes were introduced from America a few centuries ago, while stories of the origins of mozzarella vary. Some historians suggest its genesis dates as far back as 1000 A.D. when it was invented accidentally, while others claim a much later discovery of mozzarella in the 1700s led to the invention of pizza in nearby Naples.
Alongside the fresco, the skeletons of three people were also discovered in the working areas of the home in recent weeks, a culture ministry statement added.
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.
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