Discovering Caltagirone, the capital of majolica and a UNESCO heritage site, and Verus Ceramiche, a company that has brought the art of Moorish heads into a pop dimension, making artists and designers from all over the world fall in love with them.
Caltagirone, part of the 8 Sicilian cities of UNESCO heritage for the Baroque, is synonymous with the art of ceramics, a magical forge where wonderful objects come to life, well describing the soul and colors of Sicily.
Its notoriety lies in the Scalinata di S. Maria del Monte with its 142 steps in polychrome majolica tiles, in the Ceramics Museum and in the Public Garden, which is worth a walk even just to see the beautiful balustrades covered with vases and pine cones from the 19th century.
Moor heads tell stormy stories full of passion, a restless chase between “masculu” and “fimmina”: life, mixed with bliss and poison.(Verus Ceramiche)
But the real charm of Caltagirone is hidden in the details that emerge here and there: a door in glazed tiles with Baroque motifs, a mural by Salvo Ligama, or an elegant moor head popping out from a building terrace.
Together with the auspicious pine cones, Moorish heads are the true protagonists of the city, among the strongest symbols of Sicily, whose history is lost back in the Middle Ages when a girl, intent on tending her garden in Palermo, sees a Moor go by and falls in love with him. A passionate love story develops between the two, but when the girl discovers that the man has a wife and children in the Far East, she kills him in a fit of anger by cutting off his head (later used as a planter).
If ceramics are defined as majolica only from the 15th century onwards, when their coating becomes more full-bodied assuming the characteristics of enamel, the trend for moor heads, which originate as garden and decorative vases, begins in the 17th century when these artifacts, with the Baroque style code, begin to be decorated with floral and animal motifs.
The ancient heads, very different from the modern ones, are rare to find today because, at the time, they were mainly used outdoors and therefore easy to get broken or damaged.
Coming to modern days, it was Verus Ceramiche, a company from Caltagirone led by Francesco Alparone and Filippo Vento which, through a new and very recognizable stylistic code, made of sexy faces and chunky glazes, that has given a new course to the manufacturing of Sicilian majolica, turning it into a pop phenomenon.
Without, obviously, failing the artistic mastery that lies behind each piece, shaped by the hands of skilled craftsmen capable of modeling clay on the lathe, then fired and glazed. Just stand out, among the various models, the Kore line as well as the collection by Cori Amenta, a designer and artist originally from Noto, who has overturned the classic canons by shaping the heads in the likeness of Frida Kahlo, Medusa and the Queer Queens.
A pop soul, that of Verus Ceramiche, which also enchanted Madonna during a recent trip to Sicily. The creations can be admired and purchased in the Verus showroom, a few steps from the famous Caltagirone staircase, which extends over two floors of an ancient frescoed building and a private lounge with American bar, where private events and parties are held, that will soon be opened to the public.
And if you’re lucky, you can book the Verus Experience, at the nearby production site, by reservation and limited to the daily availability of the artisans, to witness the fascinating stages of forging and decorating.
And after the visit, one must absolutely take advantage of the excellent street food in the city, such as Pinsè, near the central square, where you can order arancini and pinsa, a sort of traditional ancestor of pizza.
The spread of the ceramic industry in Caltagirone is due, in particular, to the Arab domination and to the great diffusion of deposits of excellent quality clay, as well as sulfur mines, which favored an increasingly refined production of majolica.