Apollo Magazine

UNESCO gears up for a pizza party

The Neapolitan dough boys have applied for protected status for pizza through UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage scheme

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

From Fra Angelico to Futurism, Italian culture has shaped the modern age. It’s unsurprising, then, that many of the country’s artistic and architectural achievements are categorised as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Now, two more creations associated with Italy’s cultural history are vying for UNESCO protection.

The first is Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, which is home to some of the finest surviving examples of Italian modernist architecture. The city centre was built up by colonisers in the early 20th century, and a number of ambitious architects indulged their wildest art deco fantasies on the city. Incredibly, this unique built legacy has survived almost completely intact in the decades since the Italians were forced out in 1941. If granted World Heritage status, it is hoped that the accolade would encourage increased tourism to the impoverished East African nation.

The second is, er, pizza. Yes, your favourite cheese based snack could soon make the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity scheme. This is a list intended to safeguard cultural traditions and ensure their survival. Italian traditions successfully granted protection by the scheme include Sicilian puppet theatre, traditional Cremona violin carving and the cultivation of vines on Pantelleria. Though culinary traditions are eligible for UNESCO protection – the Mediterranean Diet and French gastronomy are notable inclusions – few of them appear on the list.

Sadly, it’s not quite as silly as it sounds. The Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli has applied for its signature product to be recognised by UNESCO because it is ‘threatened by globalisation’. They may have a point: according to traditionalists, a true Neapolitan pizza should be round with a maximum diameter of 35cm, and topped with fresh tomatoes, oregano, garlic, buffalo mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt. A petition for their cause has since attracted more than a million signatures.

The pizza’s closest brush with world heritage to date is probably the ‘Veneziana’ pizza at your local branch of Pizza Express. Since 1975, a small slice from the sale of each such pizza is donated to the Venice in Peril Fund. Alas, the recipe, which includes pine kernels, red onions, capers and – of all things – sultanas, would be excluded from the UNESCO remit.

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