The legend behind Sicilian Ceramic Heads

The legend behind Sicilian Ceramic Heads
23 May 2016 Vita Granata

Who, coming at least once to Sicily, has never seen a Moorish head in a balcony, or in a traditional Sicilian Restaurant, or in the many pottery shops we have?

The art of Maiolica pottery was brought to Sicily by the Arabics who taught Sicilian how to create these wonderful objects, now real peieces of art.

In he thirteenth-century, the Spaniards of Aragon were the first who referred to colored Sicilian ceramic objects as “maiolica”, because the  firing and glazing techniques used to create these pieces were similar to those used in the Balearic Islands of Majorca.

There are many different types of items that can be crafted, distinguished by their color patterns, the shape and the motifs painted on the pottery.  But, without any doubt, the most popular and fascinating ceramic objects are the Moorish Heads or Teste di Moro.

Walking through the many narrow streets of Taormina, you may end up in Via degli artisti, an incredibly beautiful street embellished by Sicilian Majolica ceramics designed by a local artist. At the top of his house you will find these beautiful ceramic heads pots where blooming plants grow inside.

 

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The legend of the Moorish head goes back in the XI century, during the Moors domination in Sicily and as in most legends, is once again Cupid’s fault (or credit).

One day, a beautiful and honorable young girl living in the Kalsa, the arabic district of Palermo, was taking care of plants and flowers in the balcony of her house as she was used to. Suddenly, a Moor merchant who was passing by, fell in love with the beautiful girl who immediately returned his love.

They started having a love story until when she discovered he already had a wife and children waiting for him in his native land. She went suddenly crazy of jealousy and one night, while he was sleeping she thought of a way to make him stay with her forever!

She therefore cut off his head and cleverly decided to use it as a vase to grow her beautiful basil plant.

People walking down her balcony started looking at her flourishing plant of basil and became jealous of how bloomed her plants were, so they began to forge colourful clay heads pots wishing to have the same magic green thumb.

Today there are several varieties of ceramic heads, but the traditional ones show a black man and a beautiful girl.

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True or not, romantic or creepy, today these Mori represent the Sicilian ceramic art all over the world, thanks also to Dolce&Gabbana, who often use characters and items of the traditional Sicilian folklore and have recently launched a collection inspired to the Moorish Heads.

 

Moro d&g

 

These unique pieces of art and the legend behind them have taught us one important thing: if you ever fall in love with a Sicilian girl, be careful not to break her heart!

I'm 26 and Sicilian since my first breath! I've lived in this wonderful country for most of my life with brief but unforgettable intervals in New York, Tanzania and Turin!✈️ I completed my Communication and Foreign Languages studies in 2014, but I'm still studying to become a Sommelier in the very next future! ? Travel Lover, Wine Lover, Sicily Lover!

18 Comments

  1. Emanuele 4 years ago

    Davvero stupende

  2. Kathryn D'Alleva 2 years ago

    Thank you, I’m staying in Taormina and wanted to know what these heads were all about!

    • Author
      Vita Granata 2 years ago

      Thank you for taking time to read this post!Have a lovely stay in Taormina 🙂

  3. Mercedes Molina 2 years ago

    Good to know

  4. Velma 1 year ago

    This post is about being African American with an upcoming trip to Italy, and a by-chance visit to an antique store in Gladewater, TX where I saw two Moors head sculptures proudly on display in the “Italy” section and wanted to know more about them. The store owner provided me with some incredible history. Of course I turned to Google for more information, and came across this most nteresting article. All combined definitely adds more anticipation to my trip.

    • Author
      Vita Granata 1 year ago

      Hi Velma, thank you so much for taking time to read this article.
      Please let me know if you will pass by Taormina, it will be lovely to meet you!

      Best,

      Vita

  5. Two bellezze 1 year ago

    Hi Vita, great article.
    We are @twobellezze and want to follow you on instragram & reference your article on our Taormina content. Do you have an Instagram account?

    Thanks!

    • Author
      Vita Granata 1 year ago

      Hi! Thank you for taking time to read this article and for sharing.
      You can follow us on @experiencetaormina, while my personal Instagram account is @vitagran.

      Best,

      Vita

  6. Norma Baunsgard 1 year ago

    Hello! I just purchased these two heads while in Sicily.
    The story intrigued me and some of the heads are very beautiful.
    What I was wondering is, what were their names ? If you know, would you please
    Share that information with me? Thank you! Normie

    • Author
      Vita Granata 1 year ago

      Hi Normie, unfortunately the names of the two protagonists of this fascinating legend are unknown.

  7. Keith Wolton 10 months ago

    Hi Vita – thank you so much for your article on the ceramic heads of Sicily. I have just arrived in Taormina and am seeing these everywhere! Now I understand what they are all about – excellent!

    • Author
      Vita Granata 10 months ago

      Hi Keith,

      thank you for your kind message and for taking time to read this article.

      I wish you a nice stay in Taormina!

      All the best,

      Vita

  8. Geoff 9 months ago

    Great article – have purchased two vases here in Trapani to take home. Will be careful not to break any Sicilian girl heart 🙂

    • Author
      Vita Granata 9 months ago

      Hi Geoff,
      thank you for reading the article! I guess this is a precious lesson for all the forginers falling in love with Sicilian girls!?

  9. Sean 7 months ago

    Ciao Vita!
    We just came home from 2 weeks in Italy for our honeymoon and part of the trip involved a 4 night stay in the beautiful town of Taormina.
    The ceramics found there are amazing. I was wondering on the picture of the house with balconies you have included in the article is yours? We passed by it many times hoping it was a storefront because of the beautiful way it’s windows were decorated. Alas, we never saw anyone inside or other type of activity. Bam Bar up the block was a fun place to socialize, though!
    Grazie!

    • sales 7 months ago

      Dear Sean,
      thank you for taking time to read the article. The house with balconies is actually the private house of a local artist who is very popular for his ceramics and other Sicilian baroque art objects, such as: saints and angels statues and the interiors of the house are also decorated in the same style.
      We can arrange private visit of the house and a meeting with the artist. If you will come back in the future, please let me know!

      All the best from Taormina,

      Vita

  10. Chavez Moore 3 months ago

    It’s always our hearts that get us in trouble when we don’t use our brain. Thank you for this timeless story.

  11. Marilyn McPhie 7 days ago

    This story reminds me a little of the story of “The Pot of Basil” from the Decameron. A young Italian woman falls in love with a man of lower social status. When her brothers discover this, they kill him. In a dream, he reveals the murder to the woman, who finds his body and, reluctant to leave him buried, but unable to bring his body back home with her — cuts off his head. Then, wishing to keep the head a secret from her brothers, she puts it in a pot and plants basil in the pot. She sits beside the pot day after day, watering with her tears. Finally, her brothers become suspicious, and they find the head in the pot and take it away. Broken-hearted, she jumps from the balcony and dies. So sad. The story has been the subject of many paintings.

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