Naples pizza-twirling gets Unesco world heritage status

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A pizza-maker prepares a pizza in NaplesImage source, AFP/Getty
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Italy said pizza-making was a unique cultural and gastronomic tradition

Pizza has conquered the world, but the art of a "pizzaiuolo" - twirling the dough and baking it in a wood-fired brick oven - is less well known outside the Italian city of Naples.

That could now change after the UN's cultural body gave it world heritage status, which aims to raise awareness of traditions around the world.

The pizzaiuolo craft has been handed down for generations, Unesco said, and encompasses the social ritual of songs, stories and gestures that takes place between pizza makers ("pizzaiuoli") and diners in working class Neapolitan neighbourhoods.

Italy had argued that the practice was part of a unique cultural and gastronomic tradition.

Image source, AFP
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Pizza-makers handed out free pizza to celebrate the listing

"Victory!" tweeted Maurizio Martina, Italy's minister for agriculture, food and forestry. "Another step towards the protection of Italy's food and wine heritage."

Pizza-makers in Naples celebrated by handing out free pizza on the streets. Two million people had signed a petition to support the pizzaiuolo application, the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli head Sergio Miccu said.

"After 250 years of waiting, pizza is humanity's heritage, its intangible heritage. Congratulations to Naples, congratulations!" pizza-maker Enzo Coccia told the BBC.

'Criminal' pineapple

The traditional Neapolitan pizza has two classic versions.

One is the Margherita with tomato, mozzarella, oil and basil, which has the same red white and green colours as the Italian flag and is believed to have been named after Italy's Queen Margherita of Savoy.

The other is the Marinara, with tomato, garlic, oregano and oil.

Locals profess bafflement at foreign topping innovations such as pineapple, which appears on the Hawaiian.

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Astronauts held the first ever pizza party in space earlier this month

"I think, and I hope, that this could be the chance to make foreigners understand how pizza is made, without Nutella or pineapple," Matteo Martino, a customer at a Naples pizza restaurant, told Reuters news agency.

On Twitter Alex Iatoni from Bergamo in northern Italy said: "It's good that pizza has been recognised as UNESCO heritage. But now we must insert the pineapple in the list of crimes against humanity."

Endangered traditions

The pizzaiuolo craft was up against 33 other traditions seeking to join Unesco's list of "intangible heritage", set up in 2003.

Others to be included are:

  • Saudi Arabia's al-Qatt al-Asin, the crafting of interior wall paintings by women
  • Bangladesh's Shital Pati, which uses green cane to weave mats and bedspreads
  • The horseback game of Kok Boru in Kyrgyzstan, in which participants traditionally competed to place a dead goat in a goal, although a mould is nowadays more often used

The list already includes some food traditions, including Turkish coffee culture and the gingerbread craft of northern Croatia.

Image source, AFP/Getty
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Turkish coffee is already on the Unesco list

Altogether it contains more than 350 traditions and crafts, ranging from better known practices such as Spanish flamenco dancing and Indonesian batik fabric making to more obscure items such as a Turkish oil wrestling festival and a Mongolian camel coaxing ritual.

Unesco has also placed six traditions on its urgent safeguarding list, which means they will get support to prevent them disappearing.

They were declining for reasons including the spread of technology and disdain for cultural practices among young people, Unesco said.

Image source, Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
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Kuskoy villagers are the last fluent speakers of the whistled language

The endangered traditions include a Turkish whistled language, which helped local people to communicate across long distances and rugged topography, that was under threat from mobile phone use.

Other practices to receive resources include Botswana's Dikopelo folk music, songs about herding and milking from Colombia and Venezuela, Mongolian traditional worship, the Taskiwin martial dance from Morocco and traditional poetry recitals from the United Arab Emirates.