In the past, I’ve recounted one legend of the origins of the decapitated Moor’s-head vase. Last spring while visiting my friend Sebastiano, co-owner of Gelsomino Imports (Sicilian artisanal products), in Castelvetrano, he told me of a different legend of the origins of these ubiquitous ceramic vases, like these pictured in Taormina. It goes something like this: Around the year 1000 in the Kalsa district of Palermo, there was a beautiful princess who met and fell in love with a Moorish knight. The two shared their passionate, forbidden love in secret until the princess’ brothers learned of their romance. The angry brothers moved to put a stop to their sister’s indiscretion. They ambushed the Moor, decapitated him, and left his severed head and body in a nearby forest.
When the princess no longer saw her lover, she assumed he abandoned her and returned to his home country… until the knight came to her in a dream. In it, he showed her what transpired and detailed where she could retrieve his remains. The princess located the Moor’s head in the forest and brought it back to Palermo where she conserved it on her balcony—the place from where she had met him and made love to him. Crying over her lover’s remains each day, from his head grew an aromatic, green plant—basil, a symbol of passion and love.