THE WORLD’S OLDEST PIZZA PLACE
The Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is Naples’s oldest pizza place. Of Naples, which means, worldwide
Via Port’Alba is full of old bookstalls, and it is like this until Piazza Dante.
On the paved road, Naples moves and stops to open books, browses and scents them as advised by Claudio Maria Messina who, in his “A thoughtful guide to the antiquarian and second-hand bookshops of Italy,” reports several of them in the Port’Alba area.
An ancient smell comes from the books. It is not stale, nor dust. That’s culture. But the taste of books dissolves in the pizza’s scent, the one that comes out of the oven of the doyenne of the Neapolitan pizza place.
The oldest pizzeria in Naples and, therefore, in the world: the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba.
From number 21 of the homonymous street, since 1738 the same smell of pizza always comes out, which even today, during the day, is shown in a display case in the classic on-the-go format, the pizza a portafoglio (literally “wallet pizza.” This pizza is folded in a way that looks like a wallet, portafoglio in Italian.) The current owner, Gennaro Luciano, like all Neapolitans and (even more) like any pizza maker always attentive and tied to tradition refuses to move the counter overlooking the street. Monica Piscitelli said: “We could have removed it a long time ago, but the Pizzeria Port’Alba would no longer be the Pizzeria Port’Alba without the window. Our clients have stopped by to eat the pizza as students, and today they are back with their grandchildren.”
Gennaro Luciano knows what it means to protect a tradition and, consequently, defend history and roots. He has inherited these 12 tables on the road, an oven, a kitchen on the ground floor and a couple of small rooms on the first floor. It preserves them as a historical legacy of a family, the D’Ambrosio, who founded the pizzeria. Through marriage, the Lucianos became managers since the ’40s. Ah, yes, the 40s of the 1900s: there is the risk of confusion for a business that lived the “40s” three times; ‘700,’ 800, ‘900.
When the pizza place was founded in the ‘700, there was only the ground floor. It was composed by an oven made of Vesuvian lava stone with a marble top for the preparation of pizzas and a surface where to put the stoves, a cylindrical tinned copper container to keep the pizzas warm and to deliver them. In those years, in fact, the pizza was sold through street vendors who used to bring those stoves around the city center and went back to the bakery only to restock.
In 1830, however, the pizza place was the same, with seating and upper lounges. The success had already been certified a few years earlier and the municipality of Naples, in a sense, had to take immediate corrective action. On January 19, 1796, in fact, the Bourbon court affixed a plaque right in front of the pizzeria and it still visible today. The threat was a monetary fine if the food trade would have created problems for the passage of pedestrians and carriages.
During the years, the pizzeria Port’Alba met students that then became essential men for the Italian history. From the young Francesco Crispi to Antonio Cardarelli (one the greatest Italy’s clinicians), from Salvatore di Giacomo (author of Era de Maggio) to Gabriele D’Annunzio who, they said, wrote his A’ vucchella right on the pizzeria’s tables and whose rhymes appeared on “Il Mattino” on September 7, 1903, to be then put to music by Francesco Paolo Tosti.
Today, the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba continues to breathe and beat together with the Naples’ heart and the visitors of the district and the street that goes from Piazza Dante to Piazza Bellini. They are the same, students once because the pizza was a cheap dish for penniless and ordinary people. Today, books still attract students and some academics. In front of the pizzeria, we stop attracted by the century-old smell. Without knowing that it is that same century-old place. Unaware of being part of an unchanged ritual as the pizza has remained unchanged (a unique case). An uninterrupted ritual for 300 years now.
Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
Via Port’Alba 18, Napoli
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)