Vivienne Gunning
09 Feb

Sicilian Moorish heads: Testa di Moro Sicilian folklore is fascinating. So, I found out. Occasionally, these heads peek at me from shop windows, restaurants, and balconies with too many potted plants. These Moor's heads, elegant hand-painted heads, also known as "Graste," are so symbolic of Sicily.

There are many different styles of ceramic heads, but the most traditional is a man of colour wearing a turban (a vision of the East?) and a beautiful girl wearing a crown. Both are adorned with jewellery, flowers, and citrus fruits. What is the story behind all these Sicilian vases? Maybe she was a princess? 

Here's the first story, my version of it - a deliciously juicy thriller, a tale of passion, betrayal, jealousy, and revenge. 

One day long ago, over a thousand years ago, in an Arab neighbourhood of Palermo, the Kalsa, a beautiful Sicilian girl with thick dark eyebrows, perfect lips and a soft skin, would wet her plants and flowers on her simple balcony every day, unaware that a cheeky rich merchant was watching her, and soon began to desire her. Palermo is a city full of passion, fiery, exotic Moors, and young busty Sicilian girls. His approach, showering her with jewellery, flowers, and citrus fruits and his fiery passion quickly overwhelmed her. He deflowered her. She was in love. A fiery love. 

One night, he casually regretted to her that he had to return to the East, where he belongs, with his wife, his children and his people. With jealousy and humiliation, she lost it after he "scoffed" in her garden again one evening. As his breathing calmed next to her, she slipped out of bed, found the sharpest knife in her house and, without hesitation, beheaded him. Incredible violence but so simple. 

It was head or tail. (If you can't get to the tail, you cut off the head) His head was then used as a vase where she planted her basil seeds. She felt in control. Pain, pain, her tears fell into the "bowl" daily, and the basil plants flourished like never before. The incredible basil scent hung in the air and wafted through every open door. All the neighbours now wanted basil in such pots - a tradition began. Her dignity was restored.     

I wonder - What did she do with the tail? 

Here's another take: the same characters, but with a tragic love story twist. I've got a soft spot for this Romeo and Juliet angle. Picture it: a scandalous love affair that practically begs for a soap opera. The girl, straight out of Sicilian aristocracy; her sweetheart, a charming young Arab. It was a passionate, once in a life time true love. When their secret romance was exposed, her family cruelly punished them both by beheading them. Their heads were then turned into vases and hung as warnings on a balcony. - talk about morbid. And that's why these ceramic heads are always paired up, a sombre reminder of the ill-fated lovers who were murdered together. Does it sound plausible? Who knows? But according to Sicilian legend, it's a cautionary tale against letting passion lead you astray! 

As for me, I can't help but wonder if the left-hand knows what the right hand is doing. Hello, Mafia vibes!

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