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Art & Culture

Sicily

A day in Caltagirone, a UNESCO city of the Val di Noto, learn how to make a Moor's head

12 September 2022

3 minutes

Alongside seven other cities of the Val di Noto (Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa and Scicli), Caltagirone is part of the late Baroque cities that have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2002.

In addition to enjoying splendid buildings of Sicilian Baroque style, you will be enchanted by the famous ceramics of Caltagirone. Not only can you admire but you can also learn how to make some yourself, by participating in a workshop in one of the town's shops.

1. Caltagirone, open-air museum

Caltagirone, open-air museum

Moving through the streets of Caltagirone is like walking in an open-air museum. Its architecture is often decorated with the splendid coloured ceramics that decorate the famous staircase of Santa Maria del Monte, the San Francesco bridge, the municipal villa, palaces and churches.

There are also showcases full of wonders in the artisan shops that are dotted along almost every street in the city.

2. The legend of the Moor's Head

The legend of the Moor's Head

Legend has it that around the year 1100, during the Arab domination in Sicily, a beautiful girl who lived in Palermo loved to take care of her plants herself on the balcony. One morning a young Moor saw her, he fell in love with her and declared his ardent love to her, which the girl returned.

The passion however, turned into anger when she discovered that her lover would soon leave her to return to his wife in the East. The girl waited for nightfall and as soon as the Moro fell asleep she cut off his head and made a vase in which to grow basil: in this way he could not leave her. Thus was born the tradition of using vases in the shape of a Moor's head, over time vases with female features were also added to the tradition.

3. Learn how to make a Moor's Head in Caltagirone

The historic shops of Caltagirone

During a trip to Caltagirone you have many opportunities to buy a Moor's Head from some of the best local artisans. You can also learn the techniques of how to make one by participating in a workshop revealing all the artisans secrets. Put yourself to the test by getting your hands dirty with the shaping, glazing and decorating of ceramics using freestyle techniques, powder or stencils. Of course you can take your creations with you, after the necessary firing. If you need to leave before then, they will send them home to you.

4. The historic shops of Caltagirone

The historic shops of Caltagirone

If the result of your efforts do not however live up to your expectations, you can always buy a ‘Testa di Moro’ made to perfection by those who have passed down the knowledge from generation to generation, from one of the historic Calatine shops or one of the contemporary workshops that collaborate tradition with new creative ideas.

Don’t miss Giacomo Alessi's workshop on Via Principe Amedeo who personally works and paints his creations by hand. The workshop of Totò Regalbuto is considered one of the most prestigious Calatine shops. He was a student of the Baca in the 60s. The professor, as they called him in Caltagirone, passed away a few years ago but his workshop is still open and organizes decoration courses. Filippo Vento also organizes individual and collective courses and workshops.

5. The Ceramics Museum

The Ceramics Museum

The master potters in the workshop will tell you about the treasures they are capable of creating, the meaning of traditional decorations and many curiosities about the processing of artistic ceramics. To discover the long history of this Calatina art do not miss a tour of the Ceramics Museum with over 2500 artifacts that show its evolution from prehistoric times to the 20th century.

If you happen to be about town in May, there is the Ceramics Festival to discover.