Popular wisdom often comes back in tales and legends of old, and this is true for Sicilian folk traditions as well. The legend of the Moorish Heads for example mixes up a number of elements specifically meant to attract the readers' attention, and to transport them into a story made of love, betrayal and revenge, together with a good amount of gruesome details and morals of questionable value. And yet, the result is undoubtedly effective. These young and beautiful faces - men and women alike - are found everywhere in Sicily, on balconies or terraces, and it's impossible not to wonder about their origin.
Let's dive into their legend then and let's find out why you should "never cheat on your Sicilian girlfriend".
According to the legend, there was a young beautiful girl who once lived in Palermo, in one of the city's districts, called Kalsa, back at the time when the Moors ruled Sicily. The girl lived a simple life, taking care of her plants, that she loved very much.
One day, a young Moor who was passing by, saw her and immediately fell in love with her. Like in a classic fairytale, the girl was so struck by his confession and his passion that she instantly loved him back. However, their fate wasn't to live happily ever after. The young Moor had a secret that she soon found out: he had a family back home, a wife and a child, and he had to go back to them.
Learning the bitter truth, the girl felt betrayed and angry: not only her lover had lied to her, but he was going to leave her for someone else! Her love soon turned into a desire for revenge. Therefore she decided to act: when the man - unaware of his fate - fell asleep, she killed him and cut his head off. This way she was sure he would never leave her. She turned the head into a vase and planted basil seeds in it, to show that she could still take care of him. Then she displayed it on her balcony. The basil bloomed beautifully and attracted the attention of the people who walked on the street with its intense scent. They saw what looked like a “vase” and thought it was beautiful, so many of them had copies made of it (in terracotta), to be displayed on their balconies and terraces. A tradition which - as you can very well see for yourselves - survives up to this day. The heads have become a strong tradition here in Sicily, a true pride of Sicilian craftsmanship.
To tell the truth, there is more than one version of this legend. Another one for instance, tells the story in a more romantic - almost tragic - way. According to this other version, the girl belonged to a noble family and the relationship with the young Moor was kept secret. When the girl’s family found out however, the two lovers were killed and beheaded, and their heads were displayed as a warning to others not to fall prey to “improper” passions.
The first version is the most famous one though (you can easily guess why). The moral "don't let yourself be carried away by improper passions" must not have had that great an appeal among the listeners.
Whatever the story though, what has survived over the centuries is the strength of this symbol and the endless inspiration it gave - and still gives - life to.
It’s not by chance that the collections we have on Putia.eu both represent a creative and modern reinterpretation of this ancient tradition:
- Don Corleone objects draws from the bright colors used in traditional Sicilian ceramic: red, green, yellow, blue, etc, and combines these colors with new creative ideas. The Moorish Heads that belong to this collection (you can see one example on top) are a perfect sum of this combination, with their geometrical lines and features which almost remind of Picasso or the Sicilian artist Giovanni De Simone.
- Folk Lavastone combines the excellent handiwork of skilled artisans to create Moorish Heads full of handcrafted details and with a “pop” twist, given by the colours used to glaze them.