In the heart of Pompeii, where ancient history and culinary intrigue collide, a team of archaeologists embarked on a journey that would unearth a tantalizing secret hidden beneath layers of ash and pumice. Their discovery? A fascinating fresco that appears to be an ancestral precursor to the beloved Italian pizza. Join us on this culinary archaeological adventure as we delve into the details of this remarkable find.
Still Life Fresco in Pompeii
In a stunning revelation, Italy’s Culture Ministry recently announced the uncovering of a still life fresco in Pompeii. This remarkable piece of art, discovered amidst the ruins of a city frozen in time since the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, bears a striking resemblance to what we now know as pizza.
However, it’s important to note that this ancient creation is not an exact replica of the modern pizza. Technically, it portrays a “flatbread” because a true pizza includes tomato and mozzarella. Yet, the archaeologists suggest that it might be a distant relative of the contemporary culinary delight. The fresco also hints at possible accompaniments like pomegranates, dates, spices, and a pesto-like sauce adorning the bread, along with a wine goblet and other fruits on the same tray.
Pompeii’s Flourishing Bakeries
This captivating fresco was discovered in a bakery attached to a grand private house in Pompeii. While the site had undergone excavation in the 19th century, it wasn’t until January of this year that the “ancient pizza” was identified for the first time.
Bread held an integral place in the diet of Pompeii’s Roman population, and the city boasted more than 80 bakeries. These establishments were equipped with ovens, milling equipment, and storage areas, ensuring a steady supply of fresh bread and baked goods for the city’s residents.
The Craftsmanship Behind the Fresco
The flatbread fresco serves as a portal to the ancient crafts and culinary skills of Pompeii. Wheat, primarily, was ground into flour using circular stone millstones before being blended with water to form dough. Sweetness was introduced with the addition of honey, while nuts, fruits, and vegetables provided flavor and texture. The dough took on various shapes, including the familiar flatbreads, before being baked in dome-shaped ovens constructed from stone or brick.
Interestingly, this discovery isn’t the only one of its kind. In late 2020, a similar fresco depicting pizza-like flatbread was found in Pompeii’s Regio V. This finding shed light on the early forms of fast-food establishments in the Roman Empire, indicating that the concept of quick, ready-to-eat meals was prevalent among the working-class residents of Pompeii.
Ancient Origins of Flatbread
To truly appreciate the historical significance of this discovery, we must journey back in time to approximately 14,500 years ago. In the Black Desert region of Jordan, archaeologists stumbled upon charred remnants of flatbread-like loaves, known as “Natufian bread.” These loaves were created by the Natufian culture, an ancient hunter-gatherer society. The bread was crafted from wild barley and oats, ground into flour, mixed with water, and baked on hot stones or in rudimentary ovens. This revelation suggests that flatbread has been a culinary staple for tens of thousands of years.
The Predecessors of Pizza
Before the modern pizza graced our tables, ancient civilizations already had their own versions of flatbread with various toppings. The oldest recorded reference to a pizza-like dish dates back to ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. The Greek poet Archestratus, in his gastronomic poem “Hedypatheia” (Life of Luxury), described a dish called “plakous,” which consisted of flatbread topped with a variety of ingredients.
The word “pizza” itself is derived from the Latin word “pinsa,” meaning “flatbread” or “baked dough.” It first appeared in written records in the late 10th century in Southern Italy, referring to a plain flatbread without specific toppings. However, the modern pizza, as we know it today, was born in Naples, Italy, during the 18th and 19th centuries. It featured a round, thin crust topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and an array of toppings.
In conclusion, the discovery of this ancestral flatbread fresco in Pompeii offers a captivating glimpse into the evolution of one of the world’s most beloved dishes. While it may not be the pizza we recognize today, it is a testament to the enduring appeal of flatbreads throughout human history.