The Origin of Pizza

The Origin of Pizza

Pizza, a dish beloved across the globe, boasts a rich history that intertwines with the culinary traditions of various ancient cultures. While modern pizza as we know it is often attributed to Italy, particularly Naples, its roots stretch back thousands of years to ancient civilizations that first experimented with flatbreads and toppings. This article explores the fascinating origin of pizza, tracing its journey from ancient beginnings to the creation of the modern pizza in Naples.

The Origin of Pizza
The Origin of Pizza

Ancient Beginnings: Flatbreads Across Civilizations

The earliest ancestors of pizza were simple flatbreads enjoyed by many ancient cultures. These flatbreads served as convenient, versatile canvases for a variety of toppings and were often baked in rudimentary ovens or on hot stones.

Ancient Egypt

One of the earliest recorded instances of flatbreads comes from ancient Egypt. Egyptians baked a bread known as “focaccia,” a precursor to modern pizza dough, made from flour and water. They would top it with herbs and oils, making it a flavorful and sustaining meal.

Ancient Greece

The Greeks also enjoyed a version of flatbread known as “plakous,” which was topped with ingredients such as olive oil, herbs, and cheese. The concept of adding toppings to bread spread throughout the Greek territories, influencing culinary practices in the Mediterranean region.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, soldiers and common folk alike consumed a type of flatbread called “pinsa.” This early pizza was topped with available ingredients like olive oil, local herbs, and cheese. The Roman historian Virgil mentioned a dish resembling pizza in his epic, the “Aeneid,” suggesting its long-standing presence in the Roman diet.

Naples: The Birthplace of Modern Pizza

While flatbreads with toppings were popular in ancient civilizations, it was in Naples, Italy, where pizza began to take its modern form. In the 18th century, Naples was a bustling port city with a diverse population that included many poor workers. These Neapolitans needed affordable and convenient food, leading to the development of the pizza we recognize today.

The First Pizzerias

Street vendors and small eateries in Naples began selling flatbreads topped with simple ingredients like tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies, and garlic. These pizzas were easy to eat on the go, making them a popular choice among the working class. By the late 18th century, dedicated pizzerias began to emerge, specializing in the preparation and sale of pizza.

Margherita Pizza

A pivotal moment in the history of pizza occurred in 1889 when Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples. According to legend, she grew tired of the French cuisine that dominated Italian royal courts and requested an assortment of local dishes. Chef Raffaele Esposito, from the pizzeria Brandi, prepared three pizzas, one of which featured tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, representing the colors of the Italian flag. This pizza, named Margherita in her honor, became an instant classic and helped elevate pizza’s status from street food to a national dish.

Pizza Spreads Beyond Naples

As Italian immigrants traveled to new lands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they brought their culinary traditions with them. Pizza found a new home in countries like the United States, where it was embraced and adapted to local tastes.

Pizza in America

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first licensed pizzeria in the United States, Lombardi’s, in New York City. This establishment marked the beginning of pizza’s transformation into a beloved American dish. In America, pizza underwent various modifications, such as the development of thicker crusts, an array of toppings, and innovative baking methods.

The Global Phenomenon

Today, pizza is a global culinary icon, enjoyed in countless variations and styles. From the classic Neapolitan pizza, recognized for its soft, thin crust and simple toppings, to the deep-dish pizzas of Chicago and the innovative gourmet creations found in trendy restaurants, pizza’s versatility and universal appeal are undeniable.

Protecting Tradition

In recent years, efforts have been made to protect and preserve the traditional methods of pizza-making. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) was established to promote and safeguard the authenticity of Neapolitan pizza, ensuring that the time-honored techniques and high-quality ingredients continue to be used.


In conclusion, the origin of pizza is a rich tapestry woven from the culinary traditions of ancient civilizations and refined over centuries in Naples. From simple flatbreads enjoyed by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans to the creation of the Margherita pizza in Naples, the journey of pizza reflects its adaptability and enduring appeal. As pizza continues to evolve and inspire, its humble origins serve as a reminder of the dish’s remarkable history and its enduring place in global cuisine.