Moro’s heads: History, Legend and Tradition of Sicilian ceramics
Sicilian traditions

Moro’s heads: History, Legend and Tradition of Sicilian ceramics

teste di moro

Moro’s heads one of the Must Haves of Sicily.

Moro heads have been part of Sicilian culture for centuries. Moro heads are an iconic symbol of the island and a must if you want to capture some of the unique charm of Sicily. Not only is it a traditional object of Sicilian art, but it also has a fascinating history that many locals know and appreciate. It is a symbol of great pride and joy for Sicilians, which makes it even more special.

The head is a millenary tradition deeply linked to the history of Sicily. It is a manifestation of Sicilian culture, with its dark-headed figures embodied in tradition and related to its unique cultural customs. This tradition has been passed down from generation to generation and is believed to represent a unique achievement of human craftsmanship and creation.

Moorish heads are usually made of ceramic, and symbolize the strong but fragile ties that link human beings to their long and past cultural traditions. Today’s production of these ceramics is a testament to the resilience of the history of the island and its ability to stand the test of time with one foot firmly planted in its past, while crafting a bold history in its present.

The legend of the Moor’s head

The oldest legend about this object I think is this:

In the Kalsa area of Palermo, a beautiful young woman lived during the domination of the Moors.

The girl usually inhabited her living space, taking care of the plants on her balcony. One day a young Muslim passed by and saw her and immediately fell in love with her.

So the young Moro rushed into the girl’s house and showed her ardent adoration of her. The girl, struck by so much passion, returned the love of the young Moro. Her happiness was short-lived because after a while she learned that her beloved would soon leave to return to the East where a wife with two children awaited him.

So she waited in the dark until the boy fell asleep and then, while he slept, she cut off his head.

She made a pot with the Moor’s head, where she planted some basil, and placed it on the balcony. In this way the Moor, unable to leave her, would remain with her forever.

On the other hand, the lushness and magnificence of basil sparked the envy of everyone in the neighborhood, prompting many to create Terracotta Head-shaped pots for basil.

A tale from the Decameron contains a second version of the legend of the Moorish heads. Boccaccio places her story in Messina, the main protagonist is Lisabetta, a noble orphan girl who is jealously imprisoned by her three brothers, who have enriched themselves by inheriting the riches of her father after her death.

Lisabetta secretly falls in love with Lorenzo, a boy who worked for her family. The love story is discovered by the brothers who decide to put an end to the relationship with Lorenzo in order not to tarnish the family’s reputation.

With an excuse they lead Lorenzo to the Messina countryside, kill him and hide the body.

They tell Lisabetta that he has left on business.

The girl begins to lose hope, even if a few days have passed. Lorenzo appears to her in a dream and reveals the place of the crime and where he lies.

Lisabetta goes to the place indicated, and after reaching it, she comes across Lorenzo’s body. Unable to give him a proper burial, she cuts off Lorenzo’s head and takes it home to take part of her beloved with her.

She puts her head in a pot and plants some basil in it.

Hunt, William Holman — Isabella and the Pot of Basil — 1867.jpg
Di <a href=”” class=”extiw” title=”w:it:William Holman Hunt”><span title=”pittore inglese”>William Holman Hunt</span></a> – Sconosciuta, Pubblico dominio, Collegamento

This short story is perhaps a reference by the artist to an oldest legend.

Meaning and History of the Sicilian Moor’s Heads

The meaning and historical path of this typical Sicilian pottery are a fascinating topic. The story dates back to the 16th century in Sicily, when they were first used as decorations on ceramics.

In Caltagirone, a small town of Sicily, the art of hand-painted terracotta was perfected since the Arab domination which left (moreover) the ceramist tradition.

The craftswork form in Caltagirone has been carried on for almost a millennium and the Testa di Moro is its best representation because its central theme is the Arab domination of the island.

Most likely the earthquake of 1693, took away a large part of the ancient works that were very delicate produced with this process.

The testa di moro is a representation of a Moorish man or woman with a crown on his head.

It is believed that the fire used to make these pieces have given them a special touch.

The story of testa di moro has been passed down from generation to generation and continues to be popular to this day. They are still made using traditional methods and are found in many houses on the island as decorative pieces. Their unique design and symbolism make them an important part of Sicilian culture.

Caltagirone ceramics

The crafts production of Caltagirone ceramics is a unique craftsmanship that has been handed down for generations.

This type of work is done by hand, using the passion and skill of a craftsman to create emotion and history in each piece. The dark brown clay used for this type of work is carefully shaped by hand to create beautiful pieces full of character.

Each piece is unique and crafted with care, making it a special item that can be kept for years to come. The craft production of Caltagirone is an art form that has existed for centuries and continues to bring joy to those who appreciate its beauty.

It’s a work that requires patience and dedication, but the end result is well worth it because these pieces will last for many years and create memories that will last even longer.

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