Naples pizza twirling wins coveted 'intangible' world heritage status

Naples' pizza twirling joined UNESCO's list of "intangible heritage" on Thursday, securing the coveted status alongside a host of cultural treasures.

Pizzaioli Acrobats Coldiretti members perform “twirling” pizza to celebrate the UNESCO decision to make the art of Neapolitan “pizzaiuolo” an “intangible heritage,” in Naples on Thursday. 

Naples’ pizza twirling joined UNESCO’s list of “intangible heritage” on Thursday, securing the coveted status alongside a host of cultural treasures, including a Saudi art form traditionally practiced only by women.

The art of “pizzaiuolo” — which has been handed down for generations in the southern Italian city — was given the nod by the UN cultural body’s World Heritage Committee, which met on South Korea’s Jeju island.

It comes after some 2 million people signed a petition to support Naples’ application, according to Sergio Miccu, head of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli — no doubt buoyed by his offer of complimentary pizza if the age-old culinary tradition joined the prestigious list. “We’ll be giving out free pizza in the streets,” Miccu had said earlier.

The custom goes far beyond the pizzaiuolo’s spectacular handling of the dough — hurling it into the air in order to “oxygenate” it — to include songs and stories that have turned pizza-making into a time-honored social ritual.

“Victory!” Maurizio Martina, Italy’s minister for agriculture, food and forestry, wrote on Twitter. “Another step towards the protection of Italy’s food and wine heritage.”

In a statement, Martina said the recognition came after a years-long campaign. “The art of the Neapolitan pizza-maker contains Italian know-how ... especially traditional knowledge that has been transmitted from generation to generation.”

Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, a former agriculture minister who attended the proceedings in Jeju, said in a video posted on Twitter: “Long live the art of Neapolitan pizzaiuolo!”

The pizza’s humble ancestor, a plain affair usually tarted up with a bit of lard, initially emerged as a cheap and fast way to feed the city’s poor, said historian Antonio Mattozzi.

But despite being an immediate hit with the locals, pizza failed to take off outside the city at first, Mattozzi added.

It took Queen Margherita’s love of the classic tomato, mozzarella and basil version to fire up the imagination and taste buds of diners far and wide — at least that’s how the story goes.

Hoping to win the hearts of the commoners, the Italian queen asked in 1889 to try their favorite dish. And while she was unconvinced by anchovy and Parmesan-topped versions, the basil delight won her over.

Thirty-four candidates were in the running to join UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage, created in 2003 mainly to raise awareness, although the agency also sometimes offers financial or technical support to countries struggling to protect their traditions.

The list already included over 350 traditions, art forms and practices from Spain’s flamenco dancing to Indonesian batik fabrics, to more obscure entries such as a Turkish oil wrestling festival and the Mongolian coaxing ritual for camels.

Saudi Arabia was among those celebrating on Jeju, claiming the tag for al-Qatt al-Asin — elaborate interior wall paintings traditionally done by women. The art, which promotes solidarity among women, is handed down through observation.

Bangladesh claimed victory with its tradition of Shital Pati, an intricate weaving craft using strips of green cane to produce mats and bedspreads.

Another winner was the traditional horseback game of Kok Boru in Kyrgyzstan, where players score points by putting a goat’s carcass in an opponent’s goal — though the dead animal is replaced with a mould in the modern-day version. 

An array of traditions struggling to survive will also be given special support after being placed on an “urgent safeguarding list.”

These include a whistled language that developed in Turkey as a way to communicate across steep mountains and rugged topography but is now threatened by mobile phones.

Morocco will also get help to protect Taskiwin — a martial dance that developed in the western High Atlas mountain range and involves shaking one’s shoulders to the rhythm of tambourines and flutes.

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