Sicilian ceramic heads are one of the most typical souvenirs that tourists buy during their holidays in the island. They belong to the group of Sicilian traditions and behind their colors and human traits they hide a dramatic love story based on passion, jealousy and betrayal.
Sicilian ceramic heads: union of art and history
Sicilian ceramic heads are wonderful artisanal ceramics, shaped like a human face that adorn the balconies of the cities, especially in the area of Caltagirone.
They are always made in pairs and the main feature of the two figures is that the male has almost always the dark complexion, instead of the woman who has always the light complexion. If also the man has the white skin, he has a thick moustache and a turban that designate him as a Moor. Both figures are richly adorned with jewels, fruit and flowers; they also have a crown that would identify them as King and Queen or Prince and Princess, but which actually has a completely different meaning.
Sicilian moors heads take their origin over a thousand years ago, in particular around the year 1100, during the domination of Moors in Sicily.
In the Arab quarter today known as “Kalsa”, in the center of Palermo, there was a beautiful girl who loved to take care of flowers in her balcony. One day, while she was watering the flowers, a young moor, who was walking in the street, saw her and fell in love at first sight. She didn’t disdain his attentions, despite she didn’t know he was married and he would have left Palermo in a few days.
When she discovered the painful truth, in a rage, she cut off his head and used it as ornamental vase for her balcony. Day by day the girl filled the vase with her tears until a basil plant grew (the name of the basil derives from Greek word “basileus” that means “King”; it was therefore considered a noble plant, exactly as noble as the feelings of the Sicilian girl were. Just in reference to the “royal plant”, a crown is still placed on the head of the two lovers). The neighbours, envious of vase’s beauty, decided to build terracotta vases in the shape of a head. From that moment every balcony was ornamented with Sicilian ceramic heads.
Another version of the legend tells the Sicilian girl would have been of noble origins and she lived a clandestine love with a young moor, but this impossible love, seen as a sign of dishonour, took them to death, because they were discovered and beheaded. Both the heads, according to the legend, were turned into vases and affixed on a balcony. For this reason, Sicilian moors heads are realized in pairs in memory of the two murdered lovers.
Sicilian ceramic heads are also called “Turks heads”, because in Sicilian the word “turks” is used to refer to people of color. Among Sicilian traditions they are considered a distinctive element; they can be used as ornaments or vases for flowers, as in many shops and balconies in Taormina.
After an holiday in the land of Sicily, buying a couple of Sicilian ceramic heads is a must, to remember the trip and to take with you a piece of Sicilian traditions.
Why don’t you come to Sicily to visit with us the city of Caltagirone, that’s the core of ceramic heads’ production? Share with us the experience and take the opportunity to admire the wonderful Sicilian ceramic heads.