Naples and the Birth of Modern Pizza: The Margherita Story

Regional Variations of Italian Pizza

Pizza, a global culinary icon, finds its most celebrated roots in Naples, Italy. This bustling port city is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of modern pizza, with the famed Margherita pizza at the heart of its story. The journey from humble beginnings to international fame is a testament to Naples’ rich culinary heritage and the timeless appeal of simple, high-quality ingredients.

The Margherita Story
The Margherita Story

The Humble Beginnings of Neapolitan Pizza

In the 18th century, Naples was a thriving city teeming with life, culture, and a diverse population. Amidst the city’s vibrancy, a culinary revolution was taking place that would forever change the landscape of Italian cuisine. The origins of modern pizza can be traced back to this period, when the working class sought affordable, quick, and satisfying food options.

Street vendors and small, family-run eateries began selling flatbreads topped with various ingredients. These early pizzas were simple yet delicious, featuring toppings such as tomatoes, cheese, olive oil, anchovies, and garlic. The affordability and convenience of pizza made it a staple food among Neapolitans, laying the groundwork for its eventual rise to fame.

The Birth of the Margherita Pizza

A pivotal moment in the history of pizza occurred in 1889, during the visit of Queen Margherita of Savoy to Naples. Tired of the elaborate French cuisine that dominated the royal menu, Queen Margherita expressed a desire to sample the local fare. To honor the queen’s request, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita summoned Raffaele Esposito, a renowned pizzaiolo from the pizzeria Brandi, to prepare a selection of pizzas.

Esposito crafted three different pizzas for the royal couple. One of these pizzas featured a simple yet symbolic combination of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil, representing the red, white, and green colors of the Italian flag. Queen Margherita was so impressed with this particular pizza that Esposito named it in her honor – thus, the Margherita pizza was born.

The Ingredients and Craftsmanship

The Margherita pizza is a testament to the beauty of simplicity and the importance of high-quality ingredients. Each component plays a crucial role in creating a harmonious and flavorful experience.

  • Tomatoes: Traditionally, San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius, are used for their sweet, rich flavor and low acidity. These tomatoes are often hand-crushed and lightly seasoned to form the base of the pizza.
  • Mozzarella: Fresh mozzarella di bufala, made from the milk of water buffaloes, provides a creamy, slightly tangy contrast to the tomatoes. Alternatively, fior di latte, made from cow’s milk, can also be used.
  • Basil: Fresh basil leaves add a fragrant, herbal note that balances the richness of the cheese and the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Dough: The dough is a crucial element, typically made from just flour, water, salt, and yeast. It undergoes a slow fermentation process, resulting in a light, airy, and slightly chewy crust.

The Art of Pizza Making

The preparation and cooking of the Margherita pizza require skill and precision. The dough is hand-stretched to achieve the perfect thickness and then topped with the carefully arranged ingredients. The pizza is traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven at extremely high temperatures, around 485°C (905°F), for about 60-90 seconds. This method ensures a perfectly charred and crispy crust with a soft and flavorful interior.

The Legacy and Global Impact

The creation of the Margherita pizza marked a significant turning point in the history of pizza, elevating it from a local street food to a symbol of Italian culinary excellence. Pizzerias dedicated to crafting authentic Neapolitan pizza began to flourish, preserving and perfecting the traditional techniques and recipes.

As Italian immigrants moved to different parts of the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they brought their beloved pizza recipes with them. In cities like New York and Chicago, pizza adapted to local tastes and ingredients, leading to the creation of new styles and variations. Despite these innovations, the Margherita pizza remains a cherished classic, celebrated for its simplicity and authenticity.

Protecting the Tradition

To safeguard the heritage of Neapolitan pizza, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) was established. This organization sets strict guidelines for the preparation and ingredients of true Neapolitan pizza, ensuring that the legacy of pizzas like the Margherita is preserved for future generations.


In conclusion, the story of the Margherita pizza is a tale of culinary ingenuity, cultural pride, and the enduring appeal of simple, high-quality ingredients. From its creation in Naples to its status as a global culinary icon, the Margherita pizza exemplifies the essence of Italian cuisine. As we savor each bite of this timeless dish, we celebrate the rich history and craftsmanship that have made it a beloved staple around the world.