Exploring the Origins and Development of Italian Pizza

A traditional Margherita pizza

Pizza is a universally adored food, loved and enjoyed by people all over the world. But have you ever wondered where this delicious dish originated? The history of pizza can be traced back thousands of years to ancient times, making it one of Italy’s oldest and most enduring culinary traditions.

The Ancient Beginnings:

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to develop a form of bread baked with toppings. These ancient pizzas, known as “flatbreads,” were made with a mixture of flour and water and topped with various ingredients such as olive oil, honey, and spices.

However, it was the Greeks who truly perfected the art of baking bread and topping it with different ingredients. They called this dish “plakous,” and it was often enjoyed as a simple but delicious meal.

The Roman Influence:

With the expansion of the Roman Empire, the popularity of flatbreads spread throughout the Mediterranean. The Romans added their own twist to the dish by adding additional ingredients such as cheese, herbs, and even meat.

The Roman poet Virgil wrote about a type of bread topped with olive oil and herbs, which was similar to what we would recognize as pizza today. This early version of pizza was known as “picea,” and it was often served as a quick and convenient meal for soldiers and travelers.

The Evolution in Naples:

It wasn’t until the 18th century that pizza, as we know it today, truly began to take shape. In Naples, a vibrant and bustling street food culture emerged, with pizza being a popular choice among the locals.

(image: Troops eating pizza during World War II)

Neapolitan pizza was made with simple, local ingredients such as San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. These ingredients were layered onto a thin, crisp crust and baked in a wood-fired oven. The result was a pizza that was both delicious and satisfying.

The Margherita Pizza:

One of the most iconic and traditional Neapolitan pizzas is the Margherita. Legend has it that in 1889, Queen Margherita of Italy visited Naples and fell in love with this dish. To honor her, a pizzaiolo named Raffaele Esposito created a pizza with the colors of the Italian flag: red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil. This pizza was named the Margherita, and it remains a classic favorite to this day.

The Spread of Pizza:

In the late 19th century, Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States, particularly in cities like New York and Chicago. Initially, it was primarily enjoyed within Italian communities. However, over time, pizza’s popularity grew, and it became a beloved dish for people of all backgrounds.

(image: A slice of New York-style pizza)

The development of new techniques and variations, such as the New York and Chicago styles, further propelled pizza’s popularity. Today, you can find countless variations of pizza worldwide, each with its regional flavors and style.


Italian pizza has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a simple flatbread topped with olive oil and herbs. Through the centuries, it has evolved into the diverse and beloved dish that we know today. Whether you prefer the classic Margherita or enjoy experimenting with different toppings, pizza continues to bring joy and satisfaction to people around the world.

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