Pizza didn’t start to develop into the form we know and love today until the 16th Century. However, the origins of the flatbread with toppings began in the Neolithic period (15,200 BC to around 2,000 BC). Throughout history, various peoples have had their own flatbreads that are all considered precursors to modern pizza. The Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians, Israelis, Babylonians can all claim a piece of early pizza history.
During the 6th Century B.C., it is believed that the Persians would bake a flatbread on their shields and top it with cheese and dates. The earliest known record of flatbreads in Italy is the 3rd Century B.C. Unlike modern day pizza, these recipes were sweet. Cato the Elder documented that Romans ate a “flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones.”
In 16th Century Naples, pizza started developing into the version we are all familiar with. At the time, a galette flatbread, which is round, was topped with various ingredients and called a pizza. It was sold to the working poor, who needed something inexpensive and quick. Judgmental Italian authors and the rich would brand this food as “disgusting.” However, pizza piqued the interest of tourists who would visit Naples’ poor areas to buy pizza out of the open-air stand that the areas were known for.
While pizza could have easily continued to be dismissed as an unappealing peasant food to be gawked at by tourists, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita changed its fate. The legend goes that the queen summoned baker Raffaele Esposito to bake three different pizzas for her in 1889. Her favorite, which had basil, mozzarella, and tomatoes for the colors of the Italian flag, now bears her name with people around the world ordering Pizza Margherita or a Margherita pie on a daily basis.
These days you can purchase pizza in countries and cities around the world, but it still has a strong connection to Naples. This connection is so strong that the European Union has designated Neapolitan pizza, of which Pizza Margherita is one type, a Tradition Specialty Guaranteed to protect the traditional qualities of the food.