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Marriage, Myth, the Pomegranate and the Sicilian Moor Head

Posted by Suzanne Turrisi on 03 Dec 2019



Two richly decorated Sicilian moor head vases, ( a couple in fact) created by Besnik Harizaj from the famous pottery town of Caltagirone and shipped to Australia for a wedding this spring, feature on this blog.

They are spectacular and the decorative ripe pomegranates and red chilli peppers are (as I found out) filled with serious meanings. Love, marriage, fertility and a young and the beautiful Greek Goddess, Persephone all surfaced when I started searching.

First though, the often told legend of how the Sicilian moor head vase came to be.




The often-told fable

Sicilian moor  head vases are found all over this magical island in hotels, restaurants and homes, on terraces and balconies, stairways and along streets and the legendary tale is grisly.

The legend involves love, passion and a gruesome murder. A married lover (a Moor) literally loses his head at the hands of his jealous and enraged Sicilian lover to ensure that he stays with her forever when she discovers that he has a wife and family at home. After the dreadful deed the enraged lover uses the severed head to grow a basil plant. Placing it on her balcony it thrives and becomes much admired.

Rochelle del Borello in her interesting and detailed article, The Truth Behind Sicilian Moorish Heads, tells this original version of the folk story and that it took place in Palermo at the time of the Arab domination of Sicily. She goes on to tell other wonderful versions as well.


The decorative details of this 'Besnik' couple

Topped with golden crowns these two 'Sicilian heads’ are youthful, regal and beautiful. Draped in bursting pomegranates, chains of daisies, chilli peppers and foliage, his turban clad head, dark eyes and black beard are moorish.

Ripe pomegranates layer the hair of both, bursting open, they cascade down their necks and backs. The pomegranate is a symbol of ‘life, regeneration and marriage’ .

 The red chilli peppers, framing the handsome bearded face of the turbaned male head, are said to symbolise ‘fertility, virility and strength’ (Wikipedia).

And the blue daisies- the arrival of spring. (see below)


The 'sacred'meanings - myths, goddesses, pomegranates and marriage

In Mary Taylor Simeti’s book, ‘On Persephone’s Island’, she notes that the pomegranate is sacred to Persephone, the beautiful young Greek goddess of vegetation and Queen of the Underworld who, with her mother Demeter, (the goddess of agriculture and fertility) were worshipped in ancient Sicily, and that together with Persephone, Demeter held all of Sicily 'in her proctection'. 

It turns out that the pomegranate- in the tale of Persephone’s abduction by Hades  (god of the underworld) and her subsequent marriage to him- in fact holds a very serious meaning, it is said to be ‘a symbol of the indissolubility of marriage’. (see section "Sacred Meanings").

Those delicate blue daisies are a perfect nod to the arrival of spring when Persephone returns to earth from the underworld for a period.



A wedding in the spring

These beautiful Sicilian heads, shipped to Australia for a  wedding in the spring were perfectly decorated by Besnik Harizaj.

The pomegranate's symbolism is laden with solemnity, fitting for a marriage.






Photos by Leo Turrisi

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