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Italy: 'Pizza' fresco found in ancient ruins of Pompeii

June 27, 2023

Experts say that the ancient fresco, which depicts a flat bread with assorted toppings on a tray with other food, could be a "distant relative" of modern-day pizza. There are a few key ingredients missing, however.

A 2,000-year-old fresco depicting the ancestor of the modern pizza is shown on a crumbling wall at an arecheological site in Pompeii
Experts say that the image refers to the Greek tradition of 'hospitable gifts' that were offered to guestsImage: Archäologischer Park von Pompeji/pompeisites

 A 2,000 year old fresco depicting what might be an ancient ancestor of the Italian pizza has been found in the ruins of the city of Pompeii, Italy's Culture Ministry said on Tuesday.   

Archaeologists assume that the flat bread 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.

The image was painted using the fresco technique, where an artist paints on wet lime plaster.

The newly discovered image has some significant differences from pizza dishes that are enjoyed today — since tomato and mozzarella cheese were not available when the fresco was painted.

What was found in Pompeii could "may be a distant relative of the modern dish," experts with the Pompeii Archaeological Park said in a statement.

Old fresco uncovered amidst a crumbled wall in the ancients ruins of Pompeii
The ancient city of Pompeii was destroyed by a volcanic eruption and is now an archaeological treasure troveImage: Archäologischer Park von Pompeji/pompeisites

Pizza – from 'poor man's' dish to conquering the world

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).

The fresco was uncovered amidst a half-crumbled wall of a house included a bakery in an annex. The Culture Ministry said that the building was partly excavated in the 19th century and the digging resumed in January. 

The director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtriegel noted that the painting shows the contrast between "a frugal and simple meal, which refers to a sphere between the bucolic and the sacred... and the luxury of silver trays and the refinement of artistic and literary representations."

This contrast is also reflected in modern-day pizza, Zuchtriegel said, noting that pizza was "born as a poor-man's dish in southern Italy, which has won over the world and is served even in starred restaurants."

Fresco suggests Pompeiians already ate a precursor to pizza

Archaeological boom in Pompeii

"Pompeii never ceases to amaze. It is a casket that always reveals new treasures" said Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the city of Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano. Pompeii was lost to time until the site was rediscovered in the 16th century and has witnessed a boom of archaeological activity since then.

Due to the giant cloud of gases and ash covering the city, archaeologists estimate that 15 to 20% of Pompeii's population died in the volcanic eruption. 

Experts at the park added that during the excavations, the skeletons of three victims had been found in the past weeks.  

ara/rs (AFP, Reuters)

Rescuing Pompeii