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Is That a Pizza?

A wall painting that was created about 2,000 years ago shows what looks like a pizza. But did pizza exist back then?

A closeup of a mural showing a tray of food, including an item that looks like a pizza.

Courtesy of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii

Is that a pizza on the left side of the silver tray?

Workers excavating the ancient city of Pompeii, in Italy, recently unearthed a fresco (a wall painting) showing a tray of food that includes a round, flat bread covered in toppings. The discovery has anthropologists, historians, and foodies alike wondering: Is that a pizza?

Today, pizza is among the world’s most popular foods. It’s not surprising to see it on a restaurant menu or at a party. But the fresco was painted about 2,000 years ago—long before modern-day pizza was thought to be invented. 

People who have studied the “pizza” say its true identity lies in the details. It appears to be a focaccia, which is a type of flat bread that originated in Italy, probably thousands of years ago. It’s topped with spices as well as a pomegranate and possibly a date. But something is missing. 

The pizza in the painting doesn’t have tomatoes or mozzarella cheese. Historians say people in Pompeii wouldn’t have known either of those ingredients. Mozzarella wouldn’t have been invented yet. As for tomatoes, they originated in the Americas and weren’t brought to Europe until about 400 years ago. Europeans avoided eating tomatoes for a long time after that, possibly because they believed tomatoes were poisonous!

Without tomatoes and mozzarella, does the food in the fresco qualify as pizza? Not according to a statement from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

“Whilst it looks like a pizza, this image from a Pompeian painting from 2,000 years ago obviously can’t be, since some of the most characteristic ingredients are missing, namely tomatoes and mozzarella,” the statement said.

But Gino Sorbillo, who owns one of the oldest pizza restaurants in Naples, which is near Pompeii, says it’s definitely a pizza. He says that, even today, people use all sorts of toppings on pizza and still call their creations pizza. 

“It was an ancient form of pizza,” Sorbillo told the Guardian. “[Today] you can use fruit, for example figs, or strawberries, if it’s a sweet pizza.”

NEWS EXTRA

World Cup Action!

Four images show soccer players during games and celebrating after games.

© Paparazzofamily/Dreamstime.com, © feelphoto/Shutterstock.com, Philippe Bouchard/AP Images

These photos are from World Cups of the past.

The Women’s World Cup opened on July 20 with a pair of home-team victories: New Zealand scored its first-ever World Cup game win in a matchup against Norway, while Australia defeated Ireland. 

New Zealand and Australia are sharing hosting duties for the Women’s World Cup, the biggest soccer (football) event on the planet, which is scheduled to finish on August 20. While the U.S. team is favored to take home the trophy, there’s always the chance for an upset. 

You can follow the action on TV or online–all summer long! 

Did You Know?

Eight people stand in front of a U S map as slices of pizza drop into their mouths.

© Cienpies Design, Milkym/Dreamstime.com, © notviper–iStock/Getty Images; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Pizza originated in Italy, but it’s extremely popular in the United States, where about 350 slices of pizza are eaten every second!

Who Invented Pizza?

Calcographia Collection/National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., © stockcreations/Dreamstime.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Where did pizza originate? It’s complicated. According to various sources, people in China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome began eating flatbread with toppings thousands of years ago.

But these flatbreads, like the flatbread in the fresco in Pompeii, weren’t really pizzas the way we think of pizza today.

Modern-day pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, sometime in the 1700s. By this time, someone had discovered that tomatoes and cheese were delicious on top of flat bread. The city’s workers needed cheap, filling meals—and bread with these and other toppings fit the bill. Pizzas, which were sold by street vendors, became very popular among the poor, but not the wealthy, who didn’t think the round breads met their standards. 

According to legend, Queen Margherita of Italy made it okay for rich people to indulge in pizza. In 1889, the queen saw workers enjoying pizza and asked a chef to make one for her. Understandably, she loved it. There’s no evidence to prove this story is true, but either way, a popular variety of pizza—pizza Margherita—was named for the queen.

Over time, pizza spread from Naples to other parts of the world, and today it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t love it.

Like Going Back in Time

Grass and flowers grow among ruins of buildings and pottery.

© Ruslan Borta/Dreamstime.com

It’s hard to believe that the buildings of Pompeii, Italy, are almost 2,000 years old.

The ancient city of Pompeii was destroyed in 79 CE, after the eruption of a volcano called Mount Vesuvius. The ruins of Pompeii were frozen in time, making them an amazing time capsule that shows how people lived thousands of years ago. You can read more about Pompeii at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

epicure

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: a person who appreciates fine food and drink

Definitions provided by
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