The Moorish Heads of Sicily

…Otherwise known as Pot Heads!

I like the ambiguity in the phrase Moorish Heads. When the Moors invaded Sicily from North Africa in the 11th century, they built ceramics workshops all over the island and taught the Sicilians to make brightly coloured majolica, an art form which gradually spread throughout Sicily. One of the excavated 1,000-year-old Moorish potteries can be seen in Palazzo Steri, Palermo.

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One of the classic items, still made today, was the “Moorish head” – a fancy plant pot which was traditionally placed atop gateposts.Β And at this time, since they conquered Sicily and ruled it, the head of everything in Sicily was Moorish!

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The original pots were life-size, but nowadays they are made in every size, from larger than life, to egg-cup.

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Some are made by artisans, whilst others are made by true artists.

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There’s a size and a price to suit every pocket, and every airline’s baggage allowance!

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The city most famous for making these heads is Caltagirone, near Catania. The legend of their origin comes from Palermo, though, in the district of Al Halisa (nowadays called La Kalsa).

A young lady, so the story goes, loved cultivating flowers on her balcony. One day a Moor passed below and became infatuated with her, declaring his undying love so beautifully that she, in turn, fell in love with him. The story took a sinister twist when she found out he was married with children! Appalled at the deception and insult to her virtue, she cut his head off. Now, what to do with it? She decided it would make a perfect plant pot.

I love this story because it is exactly the kind of tale a Sicilian would invent to entertain a child, or to get a laugh from a curious tourist.

 

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22 thoughts on “The Moorish Heads of Sicily

  1. I was JUST talking about Italian pottery w my mom. Need to find two ceramic pitchers I got in Florence and stowed away somewhere. Not sure the heads would make our collection though πŸ˜‰

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    1. Oh yes, I hadn’t thought of that. There are lots of images of humans in Sicily made By the Moors, including loads and loads of little men having fun times with ladies on the ceiling of the Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace!
      I did see a documentary recently showing similarly “haram” images in the middle east, in Syria I think. It seems they are like the Christians after all and break the rules of their religion if they feel like it!!!

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  2. I have a beautiful Queen head that I purchased in Caltigirone. I have been looking for a Sicilian online shop so I can purchase her King. I guess I just have to return to Sicily this summer:)

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  3. I’ve carried home a big ceramic Bacchus mask but I haven’t managed a head yet. You’ve given me courage. Just think of the great story piece in the living room – oh yes, spurned woman chops off the head of her liar lover and uses it as a planter on her terrace to grow something beautiful. What revenge. Wow. I love it.

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  4. I am in love with Italian pottery, mainly from Tuscany but we did find a great rustic design piece in Santo Stefano a couple of years ago. I had to leave the town because I was going to pass out of I tried visiting each of the pottery shops, there must be hundreds! xxoo

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    1. And don’t forget the three Moors’ heads on the flag of Sardinia.
      I don’t know about the elephants. I did find one website claiming that Sicilians made elephant statues, or put them on their coats of arms, when they won victories over the Africans. As we know there were lots of battles between Sicily and North Africa in medieval times (even though some people keep commenting on my blog that they were not Africans but Arabs, and so we should perhaps believe there were elephants in the Middle East?? Or else that they are really terribly unrealistic depictions of camels???)

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  5. When I was in Sicily I didn’t have the room to bring one back so I ordered one on line from Ceramiche deli’Artigianato Siciliano. It was signed by an artist in Caltagirone. Most people that come over to my house ask about it ,lol

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