The Moor’s head is a characteristic object of the Sicilian tradition. It is a hand-painted ceramic vase used as an ornament that depicts the face of a Moor and sometimes of a beautiful young woman.
An ancient legend recounts that around the year 1100 in the Kalsa district of Palermo during the period of the domination of the Moors in Sicily, lived “a beautiful girl with a rosy complexion comparable to peach blossoms in full bloom and a beautiful pair of eyes that seemed to reflect the entire Gulf of Palermo”.
The girl was almost always at home, and spent her days looking after the plants on her balcony. One day a young Moor found himself passing by. As soon as he laid eyes on her he fell instantly in love and decided he must have her at all costs. Without delay he entered the girl’s house and declared his love. The girl, struck by such ardor, returned the love of the young Moor. But her happiness was fleeting when she learned that her beloved would soon depart for the East where a wife and two sons were waiting for him.
So it was that the girl waited for nightfall and when the Moor fell asleep she killed him and cut off his head. She made a vase out of the head in which she planted some basil and put it on display outside on the balcony. The Moor, in this way, unable to leave, would remain with her forever. Meanwhile, the basil grew luxuriantly and aroused the envy of all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood who, in order not to be outdone, had specially built terra-cotta pots in the shape of a Moor’s head. Still today you can admire Teste di Moro of exquisite workmanship on Sicilian balconies. They are also often called “Teste di Turco” (Turkish Heads).
A nice warning to all husbands!