When most people think about UNESCO recognition, they’re likely to think about UNESCO World Heritage sites (like the Great Wall of China, Venice or Yellowstone National Park).
But did you know that UNESCO also recognizes many intangible but significant elements of cultural heritage around the world as well? Neapolitan pizza has achieved this status.
A food with a storied history
If I could eat only one food every day for a month, hands down, pizza would be my first choice. And I suspect I’m not alone in a universe of rabid pizza lovers.
So It’s not surprising that pizza, one of the most iconic foods of Italian heritage, has migrated from Italy to almost every country across the globe.
Pizza is nutritious, relatively inexpensive, and delicious. Not enough time for a sit-down lunch or dinner? A sizzling slice of pizza right out of the oven can be consumed either as a meal or a snack.
Depending on where you eat it and the particular pizza maker, styles and preparations vary including the thickness of the crust and the use of different toppings.
Pizza has its roots in Italian focaccia, a seasoned Italian flatbread, sometimes with toppings (similar to pizza dough in composition and texture but with an added leavening agent). And focaccia has its roots in Greek pita bread. According to legend, a pizza maker (pizzaiolo) from Naples created Pizza Margherita in 1889 to honor Margherita of Savoy, the Queen of Italy. The colors of the cheese, tomatoes, and basil were intended to represent the flag of Italy.
Its popularity in the U.S. spread further with the wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th century and now it’s pretty much eaten all over Italy. Originally eaten predominantly in central and southern Italy, World War II soldiers helped aid and abet the pizza “diaspora.”
A simple food achieves UNESCO Cultural Heritage Status
In December 2017, the pizza of Naples (the capital of the Campania region of Italy) garnered a spot on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. (At the time, it joined a total of 470 different but culturally relevant practices from 117 countries on the same list.
The essential ingredients of Neapolitan pizza include San Marzano tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese, flour, sea salt, and water. Making Neapolitan pizza as it has been made by generations in the same geographic area is an art that has become part and parcel of the history and culture of Italy.
There are some 3000 official pizza makers in Naples. The UNESCO Cultural Heritage status recognizes that the valuable traditions and special skills associated with Neapolitan pizza may be threatened and need to be preserved.
When the citizens of Naples learned about this historic recognition, pizza makers in the city shared slices of free pizza in the streets!
Learn more about the art of pizza:
On BuzzFeed: 19 Versions of Pizza from Around the World
Photo credits: All except lead photo, Jerome Levine