Caltagirone: the Town that Lives of Ceramics

First was blue. Than green came, yellow and only much later red. These are the colours, in order of appearance, of the world-famous ceramics of Caltagirone. Not another town in Sicily makes more use of tiles and colours as this one […]

Every corner in Caltagirone seems to be about ceramics and all the ceramic shops have their own laboratory. At least this was my impression while strolling along its streets. An impression that eventually lead me to believe that everyone in this town of the hinterland of Sicily is somehow an artist. And street artists are no exception.

Street Art + Fiat Panda

It was a woman working in a ceramic shop in the centre of Caltagirone who explained the story of the colours and other anecdotes to me. She was hesitant at first – perhaps suspicious as many Sicilians often can be – but she soon shared her knowledge with me. Perhaps it was as soon as she understood I was genuinely interested.

The colours and the shapes of caltagirone’s ceramics

She pointed out to me that the ceramics of Caltagirone as we know them nowadays are very colourful artefacts. However, the only colour that was available to the first artisans was blue. It was only in the 10th century, under the Arabs influence, that the ceramics enrich their color palette with green (thanks to the use of copper oxide) and yellow. For the red, instead, we had to wait the end of the 19th century.

As for the shapes, it is clear that on this town even the most common object was turned into something decorative. Yet, the most signature objects, if only for their strong visive impact, are the Pigne and the Teste di Moro. The first are auspicious objects in the shape of a pine cone. You can easily recognise if they are hand made by retracing the movement of the thumb and the index of the artist while making the leaves.

The second are vase in the shape of heads. In particular, they are the heads of a Sicilian woman and of her Arab lover. Heads that according to the legend were cut off their respective bodies after their clandestine love was discovered. Certainly not a cheerful story but definitely a emblematic symbol of Sicily with both its exuberance and sharp contrasts.

Teste di Moro

Although tradition is often a holy aspect of any form of art that has consolidated over the centuries, in Caltagirone there are also those who want to experiment. And that is how you find, next to vases, tiles and plates also pretty ceramic jewellery as well as ceramic Christmas trees.

Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte

Shops and laboratories aside, it is with the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte that Caltagirone flaunts its artistic soul as well as its pride for the local ceramics. The staircase was built in the 17th century to connect the old part of town with a new one. In the 50s the town decided to decorate each step with ceramics tiles: 142 steps that tell 1000 year of history of ceramics starting from the Arabs going up to more recent years.

At the end of the staircase you look down to the town. You see it tapering between the golden countryside while the gaze loses into the horizon. In this moment my mind tries to grasp how cooked clay was able to connect this little town in the middle of Sicily and the rest of the world.

View from the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte


Villa Diana: for an aristocratic stay in Caltagirone.

©photos Giulia Lattanzio 

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