Every typical Sicilian house or villa often displays a harmonious blend of Sicilian ceramic decors, together with scented jasmine or coloured bougainvillea plants strategically placed on balconies, facades or backyards.
With a closer look, some of the pottery in display may reveal a strange series of brightly coloured hand-painted decorations resembling human heads.
Responding to all phases of Sicilian history, Sicilian ceramicists borrowed from the Spanish, the Moors, the Norman and the Baroque, but to the Moorish phase belongs the fascinating tale I am about to tell...
Some of you might have already noticed a coloured ornamental vase representing a dark mustached moor's head in white turbans and gold earrings, but few of you will be aware of the grotesque and bloody legend behind this ornamental Sicilian classic.
The story takes place in the heart of the Kalsa, the Arab quarter of Palermo around the year 1000. There lived a beautiful Sicilian young girl with long silky black hair and eyes that recalled the colour of Mediterranen sea.
As every honourable Sicilian girl was not allowed to walk alone in the streets, the girl spent great part of her days gardening the exotic plants and flowers of her luscious balcony.
The Balcony scene played a crucial role in every woman's social life at that times, as it was the only way of experiencing a tantalising glimpse of freedom, a furtive look toward an open theatre on every day's hustle and bustle of the flourishing Palermo.
One day, a young wealthy Moorish merchant was passing by the girl's balcony and could not help falling in love with such unbridled beauty.
With no hesitation the man decided to declare his love to the beautiful girl.
Impressed by the merchant wealth and flattered by his apparently sincere love, the girl gave herself and her "virtue" away cultivating not only her plants, but a passionate, intense relationship with the Moorish.
But with every passionate drama there is often a twist, the girl soon discovered an awful truth : The Moor was about to return to his country, where wife and children awaited him.
Her "virtue" had been deflowered, her honour lost forever and her heart broken. Things that to every Sicilian woman only recall one simple word : Revenge.
As the two lovers spent the last night of passion together, the girl sneaked into the kitchen, took out a butcher knife and cut the Moors throat, then carried on cutting off his whole head.
The morning after, the Moorish head was on display on the girl's balcony, using the skull as a vase where she planted some basil seeds.
With the passing of time, that basil plant grew so beautifully and scented, raising the envy of every other woman in town, which asked their artisans to have molded a terracotta vase just like the one of the beautiful girl...
So, in brief : Never mess with a Sicilian girl!
The "teste di Moro" - Moorish heads are quiet popular among Sicilian ceramists and make beautiful ornamental vases for gardens and balconies.
If you are planning to come to Sicily they are usually sold in every ceramics shop, but if you would like to buy one online, there is an artisan in Syracuse that also sells online.
Ceramiche La Faience has a wide range of beautifully hand-painted ceramics and "Teste di Moro" under the "Collection Pieces" link.