The Legend of the Sicilian Moorish Head Vase

On a trip to Copenhagen with my family last year, while in a boutique, I happened upon a vase shaped like a head. I was immediately drawn to how whimsical it was. It turns out there is quite a story about it.

Ceramic vase heads are very common in Sicily. They can be found adorning the balconies of houses all over the island and are used for interior decor. But behind the distinctive shape of the vases is a rather gruesome legend.

During the time of Arab rule in Sicily, around the year 1100, a young girl lived in Kalsa, the old district of Palermo. She was often alone, taking care of her plants on her balcony. One day, a young Moor walked by and saw her watering her plants. Immediately, he fell in love. Without hesitation, he walked into her house and declared his adoration. As legend has it: "Struck by his passionate intensity, Kalsa reciprocated the Moor's love." But, soon after, she learned that her Moor would soon be returning to his homeland — and his wife and children. So, that night, as the Moor lay sleeping, Kalsa killed him. 

Then she cut off his head and turned it into a pot in which she planted basil. She kept it out on the balcony so the man was always near her, and she watered the basil daily with her tears. And the herb grew so well that it caught the attention of all of Kalsa's neighbors who each made their own clay pots in the shape of Moorish heads.
These vases — both male and female heads — were hand-crafted by artist Giacomo Alessi. Born in 1955 in Caltagirone, Alessi began working in ceramics in the 70s. Made a Knight of the Republic in 2007 and an Official of the Republic in 2011, Alessi was also a signatory of the “Manifesto for the Applied Arts of the New Century” and is included in the book of Living Human Treasures of the UNESCO Register of Intangible Heritage for Sicily. His artistic career has focused on the history of Sicily, reinterpreting tradition, myths, forms and ancient designs.

I think this head pot would look charming on your patio or in your living room. I hope you love it (and its story) as much as I do.

~ Suzie