The World’s First Recorded Pizza: Where and When


Pizza is undoubtedly a much-loved dish across the globe, but its origins are both ancient and fascinating. The concept of garnishing some variety of flatbread or baked dough with a savoury topping can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. However, the modern pizza we enjoy today is widely believed to have been born in Southern Italy.

Early Mentions and Medieval Beginnings

One of the earliest documented usages of the word ‘pizza’ dates back to a 997 AD Latin church manuscript from the town of Gaeta, northwest of Naples. The document detailed an annual homage of twelve pizzas from a feudal lord to a local bishop in part payment of land rent. This early documentation demonstrates the significant cultural value of pizza even that far back in time.

Pizza in the Renaissance

Fast-forward to the 16th century, and we find ourselves in Naples, where an early forerunner of pizza would have been a simple, rustic flatbread, generally eaten by the working classes. These early pizzas were probably modestly topped with garlic, salt, and maybe some local herbs – a far cry from the loaded and often extravagant variations we enjoy today.

The Tomato Revolution

An infamous tale often told is of Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito, who created a pizza in the vibrant colours of the Italian flag (red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil) to honour Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in 1889. However, it’s more likely that the modern-day pizza began to take shape much earlier.

When the Spanish originally introduced the tomato from South America to Europe in the 16th century, it took some time for Europeans to embrace it as a food topping. Initially, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous because members of the aristocracy died after eating them. In fact, the deaths were most likely caused by lead poisoning due to the acidity of the tomatoes reacting with their pewter plates. Italian herbalist Pietro Andrea Mattioli further damned the tomato by classifying it as part of the deadly nightshade family. Luckily for us, these fears surrounding the ‘poison apple’ gradually dissipated and the tomato became an intrinsic pizza ingredient.

The Birth of the First Pizzeria

The world’s first pizzeria is widely believed to be Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples. Initially starting as a peddlers’ stand, it opened as a full-fledged pizzeria and taverna in 1830. Situated near one of the city’s gates, the establishment quickly became the perfect spot for hungry travellers and traders to refuel with a Neapolitan pizza or catch up on business as they entered or left the city.

A lot of the pizzeria’s patrons were individuals with limited funds, so the pizzas they ordered were simple, topped with ingredients like oil and garlic. A unique payment system called ‘pizza a otto’ was introduced, allowing customers to pay up to eight days after their meal. This led to a local joke that a meal from Port’Alba could be someone’s last free meal if they happened to die before settling their bill.

A Culinary Legacy

From these humble beginnings, pizza has evolved into a global phenomenon. Today, it’s enjoyed in countless variations around the world, from classic Margherita to more adventurous toppings like squid, gold leaf, or truffle oil. But no matter how it’s dressed, the heart of pizza remains the same – a delicious blend of dough, toppings, and a tradition that spans centuries.

Pizza’s journey from ancient flatbreads to the modern pies we love today is a testament to its enduring appeal and versatility. Whether you’re a purist who sticks to traditional recipes or someone who loves to experiment with new styles and flavour profiles, there’s no denying that pizza holds a special place in the hearts (and stomachs) of people everywhere.