If you have visited Sicily, or even entered a shop selling ceramics all around Italy, you might have notice strange vases in the shape of a human head. These colorful artifacts are called Teste di Moro, Moors heads, and are part of the Sicilian pottery tradition.
But have you ever wondered why this particular shape and representation? This story starts with “once upon a time” but it doesn’t have a happy ending. At least for its male protagonist.
So, once upon a time, in the Arabic neighborhood of Kalsa in Palermo, there was a beautiful girl. Her father was very jealous so she had to stay home night and day. She was only allowed to go out on the home balcony, to take care of flowers and plants, her great passion and source of joy.
One day, a young Moor, who was walking under her balcony, saw her and fell in love.
He declared himself and, moved by his words, the girl fell in love too.
Very soon, the girl discovered that the boy had to return to his country, where there were wife and children waiting for him. One night, crazy for the humiliation, the girl killed the boy, cut his head and made a vase out of it. She planted a seed of basil which grew strong and perfumed thanks to the tears she used to shed every night.
The girl’s neighbors soon became envious of her beautiful vase and started to make terracotta vases with human features.
There are several versions of this legend, which, as per definition, is probably just a story of love and intrigue. But the great Sicilian tradition of ceramics is real and tangible.
The region is dotted with shops and laboratories. Be aware that these objects can be expensive, as there is a great amount of time, material and expertise behind them. When you find a vase for few euros, it is certainly industrial. Do not waist your mind for cheap copies.
And don’t be shy. Enter the shops, you might discover an artist at work. Unless they are really busy, Sicilian are extremely friendly and willing to tell about what they are doing.
You can also visit the Museo Regionale della Ceramica, with artifacts from all over Sicily, with a great section dedicated to Caltagirone where this art flourished, leading to a great variety of objects like candleholders, statues, cake molds, plates and everything to decorate a home or a garden.