The legend of the Moor’s Head is one of the best known of the Sicilian traditions. There are actually two versions of this same story, linked to an important symbol of Sicilianity.

Moorish Head represent Sicily all over the world. They are beautiful and colorful, with attention to detail, making them very precious. So it comes as no surprise that they are not only chosen by tourists but also by many Sicilians. Behind these decorative objects hides a very special story, made of love, jealousy and revenge.

You will find the two versions of the story below and can decide for yourself which one you prefer (to believe)

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.

Cruel revenge: the legend of the Moor’s Head

 

 

The legend of the Moor’s Head dates back to the XI century, during the Moors domination in Sicily and as in most legends Cupid is said to have been involved.
The legend takes place in Palermo, in the district of the Kalsa (the Arabic district of Palermo). A beautiful girl lived there, who used to step out onto the balcony while taking care of her plants. One day, a Moor saw her and was so taken by the girl that he showed her all his love with flatteries. The beautiful girl returned the love but what she didn’t know was that the Moor had a secret: soon he would return to the East, where he had a wife and two children waiting for him.
The young Sicilian woman was wounded in her pride and deeply hurt by the loss of who she had believed could be the great love of her life, so she 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 and would stay with her forever.
She used the head as a vase and planted some basil in it; a plant that is linked to the divine symbolism and associated with sacredness. From then on the vase was called “Moor’s Head”. The basil grew splendidly inside the vase, not least because of the bitter tears shed by the girl. The beauty of the plant spawned envy in the inhabitants of the neighborhood, who then 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 another version of the legend of the Moorish Heads, that we find more plausible but definitely less folkloristic! In this story the Sicilian girl was of noble origins and had undertaken a clandestine relationship with a young Arab. Their 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 would be reminded how forbidden and shameful this kind of love was. This version of the legend also explains why the Moor’s Heads are made in pairs!