The History of Pizza

A woman in a floral dress and straw hat eats a slice of pizza in front of a Roman cityscape

Pizza is a modern-day favoritebut did you know it existed in ancient Greece? A recent study linked the word “pizza” to “pita,” a food prevalent around the Mediterranean. From the eighth to fifth century BCE, the Greeks colonized southern Italy, bringing along their “plakous,” a round cheese pie with a crust that doubled as a handle.

Pizza spelled the way we recognize it today first appeared on a rental agreement in 997 BCE promising the landlord payment in pork and pizza. Its origins are as street food in Naples, Italy, during the early 18th century. Initially, it consisted of bread covered in pork fat or olive oil topped with cheese, but that changed with the introduction of fresh tomatoes in 1760.

The regional street food made its way into the mainstream when the King and Queen of Italy visited Naples in 1889. Queen Margherita wanted to try the local delicacy. She was offered several kinds of pizza but chose the one with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil because she thought it resembled the Italian flag. Margherita pizza was born.

The endorsement from the royal family put Naples on the map as a destination to try “real” pizza. The food became an icon of the city that still attracts visitors to this day. Pizza’s increasing popularity in the U.S. came with the arrival of Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 19th century. The traditional recipe was adapted to regional American tastesdeep dish in Chicago, Brooklyn style in New York.

But it wasn’t until the end of World War II that pizza turned into a national phenomenon. Thousands of American soldiers who had occupied Italy turned to pizza due to food rations. When they returned home, they brought the recipe with them. The tasty food spread with an internal migration of Italians in the 1950s and 60s, and pizzerias opened in many American cities.

In 2017 the process of pizza making in Naples was recognized by UNESCO as a piece of “intangible cultural heritage.” Cementing pizza’s place of significance alongside cultural traditions like reggae music in Jamaica and yoga in India.

Learn More:
The 2000 Year History of Italy's Favorite Dish
Inside Naples' World-Famous Pizza Culture