The legend of the Moor’s Head or “Testa di Moro”: love, passion, and revenge in Sicily
The legend of the Moor’s Head is one of the best known of the Sicilian tradition. To tell the truth, there are two versions of this same story, linked to an important symbol of Sicilianity.
In fact, Moorish Head represent Sicily all over the world. Beautiful and colorful, with attention to detail and precious, are chosen not only by tourists but also by many Sicilians. Behind these objects used to adorn their homes and gardens, hides a very special story, made of love, jealousy, and revenge. According to the tradition, this legend dates back to around the year one thousand, during the era of the Moorish domination in Sicily. Let’s find out together the two versions in which it is presented.
Cruel revenge: the legend of the Moor’s Head
The legend of the Moor’s head goes back in the XI century, during the Moors domination in Sicily and as in most legends, is once again Cupid’s fault (or merit).
We are in Palermo, in the district of the Kalsa (the Arabic district of Palermo). Here lived a beautiful girl, who used to look out on the balcony while taking care of her plants. A Moor, one day, saw her and was so fascinated by this girl that he wanted to show her all his love with sweet talks. The beautiful girl returned the love, but that young man hid a secret: soon he would return to the East and, moreover, there would have been a family waiting for him, composed of his wife and children.
The young Sicilian, wounded in pride and pierced by what she had believed could be the great love of her life, planned an act of cruel revenge. One night, while the Moor was asleep, she killed him and cut off his head so that he could never return to his family, staying with her forever.
The head became a vase, where basil was planted, a plant linked to the divine symbolism and always associated with sacredness. From here, then, the name Moor’s Head was given to the vase. Inside that vase the basil grew luxuriant, thanks also to the bitter tears shed by the girl. The beauty of the plant aroused envy in the inhabitants of the neighborhood, which started to ask the local artisans to craft some pots of clay with the same shape.
The legend of the Moor’s Head: the alternative version
There is also another version of the legend of the Moorish Heads, that we find more plausible but definitely less folkloristic! The Sicilian girl protagonist of the story, in this case, was of noble origins and had undertaken a clandestine relationship with a young Arab. Love was soon discovered and the two were beheaded. The heads of both were turned into vases and placed on a balcony so that everyone could know the shame of that love. And that’s also why the Moor’s Heads are made in pairs!
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