After loads of deliberation and options, these beautiful Teste di Moro are ours!
The past couple of weeks have been a head-spinner with our big move from Imperia, Liguria to Ragusa, Sicily. I supervised five movers, all hardworking Sicilian men speaking mostly in animated dialect, packing and loading our belongings. Then there was my car packed to the gills and a twenty-two-hour ferry journey (thankfully, all smooth seas) to Palermo. Then a 3 1/2 hour drive to our beautiful new home in Ragua.
Now, we’re unpacking and organizing. AND a top to-do item was to begin populating our home with art specific to Ragusa and its surroundings. First and foremost was choosing Teste di Moro, or Moorish Heads, to grace our entrance. The Visit Sicily website has an excellent explanation of the origins of these highly covetable works of art.
Two prevailing legends of the Teste di Moro
I can’t decide which I like better. Both are juicy stories. The first is all about jealousy and a young girl living in the Arab quarter of Palermo, who is noticed by a young Moorish man. He falls in love with her, declaring as much. All is good until he leaves to go back home and to a wife and kids he neglected to mention. Mad with jealousy, the young woman beheads her lover, makes a vase out of the severed head, and plants aromatic basil in it. (Deliciously bizarre, isn’t it?). The basil grows and flourishes. Neighbors smell the perfume of the basil and want to have a vase made similar to this.
The second story is all about the anger. In this version, the girl is Sicilian nobility. She and the young Moor embark upon a clandestine affair. But when her parents discover the secret romance they have them both cruelly beheaded, then displaying the heads as vases. I believe that this second story does a better job of explaining why these Teste di Moro always come in pairs.
Caltagirone, not far from Ragusa, is where most of these Moorish heads are crafted.
Caltagirone is known for its ceramic artistry, not just the Teste di Moro. In fact, I just had a custom bathroom sink bowl designed by an artist there. As for the Moorish heads, you can find them all over this Southeastern part of Sicily, but most are made in Caltagirone and displayed in many stores like the one we discovered here in Ragusa. These heads come in a wide variety of sizes and prices. Cheaper ones are mass-produced. Hand-painted ones like our beauties can be pricey but still are a fraction of the price you’d find if purchasing them abroad.
Elevated to luxury status by Dolce & Gabbana
While the Teste di Moro have always been popular, it was when Dolce & Gabbana (both from Sicily) began featuring their customized versions that they gained attention worldwide.
“The beauty and uniqueness of Teste di Moro have caught the attention of Dolce & Gabbana, the famous Italian fashion brand. In their collections, Dolce & Gabbana have reinterpreted these thousand-year-old works, celebrating Sicilian culture and its artistic heritage, thus becoming a symbol of style and a tribute to the rich history of this land.” — testedimoro.com
And we couldn’t be happier about choosing to make this city our home. Ragusa is one of eight late Baroque towns in southeastern Sicily. Tourists, especially from North Europe, are flocking here to experience Ragusa’s extraordinary beauty. While this post focuses on the Teste di Moro, I’m just cracking the surface discovering what this part of Sicily has to offer. So, stay tuned for MUCH more!