Do you know why my head ended up in the garden with basil planted in it???
I’ll tell you why! This is my favourite Sicilian legend!
These beautiful ceramic heads are called ‘testa di moro’ or ‘saraceni heads’. The word Saracen or ‘saraceni’ was often used to refer to people that came up to Sicily from Arabic countries as one of the many peoples that conquered and ruled the island of Sicily around the 9th century AD.
You will see these ceramic heads everywhere in Sicily – in shops, restaurants in homes and on balconies filled with plants. I just love them and I have several in my home.
They are beautiful and all very different depending on which artist made it. They range in price also from cheaper versions that are massed produced for a few euros and ones made by Sicilian ceramic artisans in towns like Caltagirone that will cost a lot more but are well worth it in terms of quality and beauty.
So how did they become to be part of Sicilian culture? Well, there are two versions of this fascinating story that I know of.
First version, there was a Sicilian noblewoman who was betrothed to a Saraceni man that came to Sicily. She was madly in love with him. She discovered that he had been lying to her and tricking her and that he had a wife and family back in his home country. She was enraged with jealousy and whilst he was sleeping cut his throat and cut his head off. She kept the skull and placed it in the garden planted basil in it.
The second version is that there was a young Sicilian princess that fell in love with a young Saranceni prince and the relationship was forbidden by her father by the King of Sicily. However, they continued a clandestine relationship as lovers. The King found out and ordered both their heads cuts off and displayed at the city gates as a lesson for all not to disobey him. This is why you will often find matching a male and female version of the ceramic heads in shops and houses around Sicily.
So, if you want to take something special to take home from your Sicilian holiday, do buy one or two of these stunning testa di mori and you too can tell the story!