Pompeii's Culinary Surprise : An Ancient Fresco Depicting Pizza-like Dish Unearthed

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Pompeii's Culinary Surprise : An Ancient Fresco Depicting Pizza-like Dish Unearthed

It looks like a pizza what is seen in a Pompeian painting from 2000 years ago, but obviously it cannot be, strictly speaking, since some of the most characteristic ingredients were missing, namely tomatoes and mozzarella.

According to the archaeologists of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, it is supposed that next to a wine cup, placed on a silver tray, there is a flat-shaped focaccia acting as a support for various fruits, seasoned with spices or perhaps a type of pesto (known as moretum in Latin).

Furthermore, dried fruits and a garland of yellow medlars are also present on the same tray, alongside dates and pomegranates. This kind of imagery, known in ancient times as xenia, drew inspiration from the "hospitable gifts" that were offered to guests according to a Greek tradition dating back to the Hellenistic period (3rd-1st century BC). About three hundred such depictions are known from the Vesuvian cities, which often allude to the sacred sphere in addition to that of hospitality. 

"Pompeii never ceases to amaze, it is a treasure chest that always reveals new treasures," says the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano. "Beyond the matter of merit, which scholars will discuss, the global value of this site should be emphasized. We are dedicating our efforts to the protection and development of this heritage, in accordance with Article 9 of the Constitution, which is an absolute priority."

"In addition to the precise identification of the depicted food," comments Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, "we find in this fresco some themes from the Hellenistic tradition, later developed by authors of the Roman-Imperial era such as Virgil, Martial, and Philostratus. I think of the contrast between a frugal and simple meal, which evokes a sphere between the bucolic and the sacred, on the one hand, and the luxury of silver trays and the refinement of artistic and literary representations on the other. How can we not think, in this regard, of pizza, which also originated as a 'poor' dish in southern Italy but has now conquered the world and is served even in Michelin-starred restaurants?"

The fresco was found in the atrium of a house in Insula 10 of Regio IX, currently under excavation. It was connected to a bakery that was partially explored between 1888 and 1891, and the investigations resumed last January. The structures excavated in the 19th century, partially visible, already suggested the presence of a large atrium with the classic succession of rooms on the eastern side and, on the opposite side, the entrance to the productive sector of the oven. The atrium was cleared of the debris from the 19th-century excavations, revealing the collapse of the roofs, within the layer of white pumice and a residual portion of volcanic flow deposits (cinerite) in the southern sector.

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Image of the Day

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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