Art of “Pizzaiuolo”, Naples: Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO

Art of Neapolitan “Pizzaiuolo”

Pizza is one of the most famous gastronomic products in the world. Its recipe is very simple and includes a few basic and genuine ingredients: soft wheat flour, fresh brewer’s yeast, water and salt. Once the dough is obtained, it must be left to rise. The longer the leavening, the more digestible the pizza will be. The art of “pizzaiuolo”. The art of making this much-loved food, recognized for some years as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, has an indissoluble bond with the city of Naples. And represents a strong element of belonging in the millennial history of the city. The art of pizza is an art handed down from generation to generation. A link between past and present that is an expression of the ancient Italian culinary tradition. Of which Naples is an essential point of reference.

Pizza in wood oven Photo by mzter from Pixabay

History of pizza

But where was the pizza born? According to some findings in Sardinia, the use of yeast was already known around 3000 BC. Moreover, even in ancient Greece they prepared discs of bread called “plakous”. Even the Persians cooked a flat-shaped bread. And in ancient Egypt, then, they already knew the use of yeast. Even the Romans, and perhaps more than others, began to use flours obtained from various cereals to cook pasta discs at home. With leavening, crushed or ground cereal doughs become, after cooking, soft, light, tastier and more digestible.

Art of Pizzaiuolo Photo by Daniel Naor from Pixabay

In ancient Rome, farmers, after having learned to cross the different types of spelled known to create flour, kneaded the flour of ground wheat grains with water, aromatic herbs and salt. And then they placed this round “focaccia” to cook on the hearth, in the heat of the ashes. When Lombards arrived in Italy, in the VII century, introduced the word “bizzo”. Sometimes “pizzo” to mean a bitten of bread.

In 1535, in his “Description of the ancient places of Naples”, the poet and essayist Benedetto Di Falco says that “focaccia, in Neapolitan is called pizza”. Thus the word “pizza” becomes official. The typical flatbread of wheat flour mixed and seasoned with garlic, lard and coarse salt continues to find favor with the populations of southern Italy. In a short time, however, olive oil takes the place of lard, cheese is added and aromatic herbs are found. And so, at the dawn of the seventeenth century, a new recipe appeared, the pizza “alla Mastunicola”. In dialect, by the master Nicola.

PIZZA “Mastunicola”

The origin of the pizza could therefore be placed between the 16th and 17th centuries in the Kingdom of Naples. This is the so-called “Mastunicola” pizza: the sauce involved the use of lard, cigoli, sheep’s cheese, pepper and basil. Another preparation that spread throughout the Kingdom of Naples was the “cecinelli” pizza. This pizza, in fact, was topped with small fish (in dialect, “cecinelli”).

Pizza ingredients Photo by Luis Parra from Pixabay

With the discovery of America, the tomato also arrives in Italy and everything takes on a different flavor. The tomato was first used in the kitchen as a sauce cooked with a little salt and basil. While later someone had the intuition to use it on pizza. Thus unwittingly inventing the pizza as we know it today. However, it is necessary to wait until the middle of the 18th century. It was then that the Neapolitan pizza makers, initially with diffidence, began to use it widely. In a short time this simple food was able to conquer both the palate of the people. And also that of royalty. Not only the Bourbons, who ruled over the Kingdom of Naples, but also the Savoy in Piedmont.

Pizza out of oven Photo by Lars Beulke from Pixabay

History of Pizza Margherita

If there is a name to which the invention of pizza can be associated, it is certainly Raffaele Esposito. Owner of the historic Neapolitan tavern “Pizzeria di Pietro”. It is with him, in fact, that the history of pizza Margherita began. Probably the most famous pizza in the world. It would have been he, in 1889, who dedicated a pizza to Queen Margherita of Savoy. From which it took its name. With his pizza, he also wanted to represent the Italian flag. Basil for the green, mozzarella for the white and tomato for the red colour.

Pizza Margherita Photo by zuzana gazdikova por Pixabay

The pizza phenomenon, despite its great success, however, initially remained limited to the Kingdom of Naples. In order to cross the Neapolitan borders, with the birth of the first dedicated premises. Which, obviously, took the name of pizzerias. It is necessary to wait until the early 1900s. To witness the opening of the first pizzerias in the north of Italy, in fact, it is necessary to wait for the end of the Second World War. It was then with the first emigrations. Which took place after World War II. That pizza began to be known. And therefore celebrated, even abroad. Thus, with the first fast-food chains, the history of pizza takes on the international scope we know today. From China to the Middle East, from Eastern Europe to South America, pizza become famous everywhere.

How to make Neapolitan pizza – Art of “Pizzaiuolo”

The art of making pizza is a culinary practice that includes four different phases:

• First phase: modelling of the dough piece (called ‘Staglio’). With the help of a spatula, the dough is cut into strips from which the loaves are then created. The formation of the dough blocks must be done exclusively by hand. This technique, known as the “hand staglio” that allows you to transform the strips into loaves, recalls the technique used in the preparation of mozzarella. Where the “mozzatura” always takes place by hand.

dough Photo by Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

• Second step: roll out the dough (“ammaccatura”). The pizzaiuolo forms the famous raised edge called “cornice”. With a very skilful movement, called “slap”, the pizza maker shows all his manual skill in handling the dough. And also rolling out the dough. Above all, this is a phase in which the manual skill of the Neapolitan pizza chef stands out from other pizza chefs. Only the true Neapolitan pizza chef spreads the pizza with the “ammaccatura” and the “slap”.

Art of Pizzaiuolo Photo by Orna Wachman from Pixabay

• Third phase: spread the ingredients. Starting from the center with a spiral movement and in a clockwise direction, starting with the tomato sauce.

Art of Pizzaiuolo Photo by Gustavo Garcia from Pixabay

• Fourth phase: put the pizza in a wood oven. To check the cooking, the pizza maker performs rotational movements using a special shovel. Certainly important, for cooking pizza, it’s this movement, commonly called “half turn”.

Respect for tradition

The art of making pizza was born in Naples, where about 3,000 pizza chefs live and perform today. Pizza makers are strongly linked to the city. There are three categories of pizza makers: the master pizza maker, the pizza maker and the baker.

The Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli Association was also born, which promotes social meetings and exchanges among different generations. The Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli Association organizes every year courses focused on history, tools and techniques of the art of Neapolitan pizza. Specific academies guarantee the Know-how. However knowledge and skills transmission mainly occur in the “workshop”. Where young apprentices observe their masters at work. And learn the key secrets of this extraordinary profession.

Art of Pizzaiuolo Photo by tcameliastoian from Pixabay

Experience, creativity, hard work and effort are the fundamental elements underlying a profession. And a skill that we can well consider as integral parts of Naples’ artistic heritage. The original recipe has been handed down by generations of pizza makers. In addition, follows an international specification consisting of all the essential rules to obtain the production of the true traditional specialty guaranteed. From the external appearance to the dough techniques. These codified rules handed down from father to son helps to preserve a heritage that is the expression of a millenary culture.

Rules of preparation and baking in the oven have remained unchanged for centuries. As well as the ingredients, the rising times and the preparation that contain all the secrets of the true Neapolitan pizza recipe.

The Art of the Neapolitan Pizzaiuolo

The Art of the Neapolitan Pizzaiuolo, and not the Neapolitan pizza itself, however precious and important it may be, has become, since 2017, an integral part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

pizza slice Photo by Bruno Marques Designer por Pixabay

UNESCO write a page of history for this white art form. A description that goes far beyond the various stages of pizza preparation, cooking and consumption. For Unesco, “the culinary knowledge linked to the production of pizza. Which includes also gestures, songs, visual expressions, local jargon, the ability to handle pizza dough, perform. And share, is an indisputable cultural heritage. Pizza makers and their guests engage in a social ritual. Whose counter and oven act as a “stage” during the pizza production process. All this occurs in a convivial atmosphere that involves constant exchanges with guests. Starting from the poor neighbourhoods of Naples, the culinary tradition has deep roots in the daily life of the community. For many young practitioners, becoming a pizza maker is also a way to avoid social marginalization”.

The art of the Neapolitan pizzaiuolo embodies Italian know-how consisting of experiences, gestures. And, above all, traditional knowledge handed down from generation to generation. That of UNESCO is a historical recognition that comes after a long negotiation process that lasted over 8 years. Which also rewards the pizza makers’ associations for making it possible to enhance their identity.


Pizza is a gastronomic product that consists of a dough based on flour, water and yeast. That is rolled out and typically seasoned with tomato, mozzarella and other ingredients and cooked in a wood oven. Originally from Neapolitan cuisine, it is today, together with pasta, the best known and most appreciated food in the world.

Millions of pizzas are consumed every day and the pizzeria is a must for every tourist who visits Italy. Undoubtedly its name is linked to the city of Naples, where making pizza has turned into a real art that is handed down from father to son and has become one of the symbols of Made in Italy abroad. In 2017, UNESCO included the traditional art of the Neapolitan “pizzaiuolo” in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.