Love, betrayal and revenge – The legend of ‘Testa Di Moro.’

Those who have been on a trip to Sicily, at least once in their life time, will have noticed the numerous Moorish heads found in various locations; hanging from balcony balustrades, inside traditional Sicilian Restaurants or even in the many pottery shops that exist.

The art of Majolica pottery was brought to Sicily by the Arabs who taught the Sicilian people how to create these wonderful objects, now considered real pieces of art.

In the thirteenth-century, the Spanish from Aragon were the first who referred to colored Sicilian ceramic objects as “Maiolica”, because of the techniques used to create these pieces were very much similar to those used in the Balearic Islands of Majorca, hence the name.

Majolica design
There are number of different items that can be crafted using these techniques, distinguished by their color, shape and design which is then painted on the pottery.  But, undoubtedly the most popular and fascinating ceramic objects are the Moorish Heads known as the Teste di Moro.

As you explore the many narrow streets of Taormina, you may arrive in Via degli artisti, a beautiful street embellished by Sicilian Majolica ceramics, designed by local artists. More often then not, if you look above, you will find these beautiful ceramic head pots with blooming plants growing inside.

moor heads on balcony

The legend of the Moorish head can be traced back to the XI century, during the Moors domination in Sicily.

One day, a beautiful and honorable young girl living in Kalsa, the Arabic district of Palermo, was tending to her plants and flowers on her balcony. Suddenly, a Moor merchant passing by fell in love with the beautiful girl who immediately declared his love and desire for her.

They fell in love but the fantasy didn’t last long. She discovered he already had a wife and children waiting for him in his native land. She suddenly became crazy and jealous and on one particular night, while he was sleeping, she thought of a way to make him stay with her forever!

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

People walking down the streets started noticing her flourishing plants of basil and became jealous of how well blossomed they were, so they began to create colorful clay head 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 woman.

moor heads man and woman

True or not, romantic or creepy, today these Teste di Moro represent the Sicilian ceramic art all around the world.

And, thanks to their legend, they have taught us all a very valuable lesson in life:

  Never betray a Sicilian woman.

Ever. 

moor head

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