25 Sicilian Myths and Legends


Sicily is a place full of myths and legends and there are many stories associated with the island. From the stories of nymphs and gods from Greek and Roman mythology to tragic love stories from an exotic era when the island was under Arabic, Norman and Spanish rule. Some stories have happy endings and some not so happy endings. 

What is a legend? Legends are stories which are thought to be based on true events but have developed fictional elements that have deep significance to the culture from which they originate. For example historians claim that King Arthur really existed but his existence is shrouded in different legends, such as is his final resting place on Mount Etna? 

What is a myth? Myths are stories derived from cultural traditions or legends most of which have a deep symbolic meaning and usually involve a lesson that will be helpful to the listener or reader. Mythical characters are often non-human in some form or related to a god or supernatural being, often set in ancient times or prior to when records were kept. One such Greek myth is that of Persephone, which is used to understand and give meaning to the change of seasons. 

I have always loved mythology since I was a child and always loved being regaled with mythological tales and legends by my father who I would drag every school holiday to the British Museum in London to see statues of some of the deities from Greek and Roman myths. 

So now I have you intrigued let me tell 25 Sicilian Myths and Legends, some are long and some are short, some contradict each other, but all are captivating. 

I will start with Persephone herself. 

Persephone’s Island 

Have you ever wondered how does winter and spring arrive? Demeter was the goddess of the harvest, fertility, agriculture, nature and the seasons, she was also one of the lovers of Zeus and they had a daughter named Persephone. Persephone was very beautiful and many gods fell in love with her but Demeter hid her away. However there was one particular god who had his eye on her. One day whilst walking in the countryside with her companions the earth shook and a hill nearby split open and out of the opening came a great chariot and the driver picked her up and drove back through the opening leaving no trace of what had happened. Demeter was distraught and searched all corners of the earth looking for her beloved daughter and as months passed she neglected her godly duties. Corn, harvests, the ripening of fruits and sowing of crops were all abandoned and the world became like a desert. The gods on Mount Olympus could hear the people on earth crying with hunger and then Helios the sun titan mentioned that it was Hades the god of the underworld who had abducted Persephone. Immediately Zeus went down to the underworld to bring his daughter home but Hades refused to let her go, announcing that she was now his queen. After much debate Hades gave in but declared that he wanted one more day with Persephone. That evening Hades went to Persephone and asked her to share a pomegranate with him and she took six seeds. Zeus sent the messenger god Hermes to collect Persephone and Hades told him that she had eaten fruit from his kingdom and that as she had tasted six seeds she must come back to him for six months of the year. Hermes knowing that this was true took Persephone up and out of the underworld and back to her mother Demeter. Immediately the world began to spring back into bloom again. It was a joy to last for half of the year and then in accordance with divine law Persephone would return to the underworld for the other half of the year. Each time at her departure Demeter's sadness would cause the trees to shed their leaves and a dull time would cover the world. After six months Persephone would emerge again from Hades domain and the world would bloom and be sunny once more. And so this is how the seasons came about, the autumn and winter of Demeter's grieving and the spring and summer of the joy at her daughters return. Lake Pergusa is located in the province of Enna and was supposedly the site of Hades abduction of Persephone. According to the myth the lake was used as the portal for which Persephone used to enter the underworld and emerge back to the world. 


How Sicily Was Born

The Triskelion, which Sicily's trinacria emblem is made up from, tells us that Sicily may have arisen with thanks to three nymphs from Greek mythology. The Triskelion is an ancient symbol and its name comes from the Greek word Triskeles, meaning three legs. The three legs are said to represent the three capes of Sicily. According to legend three beautiful nymphs roamed the world taking the best things from each place they visited. They all halted in an area characterised by an exceptionally bright clear sky and a sea so intensely blue. The three danced together to celebrate and felt happy and fulfilled that they had found a place of such unparalleled beauty, each of them threw themselves into the sparkling sea and their happiness gave rise to three capes. Then shone a bright rainbow and a rich land emerged from the sea with all the wonders of the world united by the three nymphs in one place. Thus was born the beautiful Sicily, the island of three capes. 


Colapesce

The legend of Colapesce is one of Sicily's most popular legends. It is the story of a young boy called Nicola who was known locally in his home of Messina as Cola. Cola was the son of a fisherman and he loved swimming so much that he spent whole days in the Sicilian sea and was fascinated by all the fish and sea life that he discovered. One day his mother, who had become tired of his obsession with the sea, cursed him and said "Cola, one day you might become a fish!". It is said that at that moment Cola became half boy and half fish and from then on he was known as Colapesce, pesce meaning fish in Italian. The news of this tragic event reached Frederick II the King of Sicily who wanted to meet him. To challenge the boy, the king threw a precious gold cup encrusted with diamonds into the sea and asked him to dive deep to see what held the island up. Colapesce threw himself into the water to retrieve the cup and when he resurfaced he told the king that he had seen caves, mountains and valleys and that Sicily was built on a rock which rested on three columns but one of them had been broken by a magic fire. The king wanted to test Colapesce again and so he threw his crown into the sea promising him that if he resurfaced that he could marry his daughter. Colapesce threw himself into the sea but never resurfaced from the waters. Whether the depths of the deep sea had overcome him we do not know but legend says that he sacrificed himself to save Sicily. Today, when the sea is calm some say it is possible to see him supporting the island by helping the third column remain stable and thus preventing Sicily being submerged into the sea. Every so often the earth trembles in north eastern Sicily and many locals say that there is no need to worry as it is only Colapesce shifting the weight of Sicily from one shoulder to another. 


Tifeo the Giant

There is also another legend about how Sicily is held up, the legend of Tifeo the giant. Tifeo was also known as Typhon and he was condemned by the Gods of Mount Olympus to be buried under the mountains of Sicily for having dared to climb the sky by building a ladder and then imitating a titan in order to take over the celestial seat by overthrowing Zeus. With one hand he holds up Capo Peloro in Messina and with the other hand he holds up Capo Passero in the south east, with his legs he holds up Capo Lilibeo in Marsala and he uses his head to spew flames from his mouth in anger at being buried under Mount Etna. Sometimes Tifeo tries to shake off the weight of the island and then the mountains and cities in that moment tremble causing earthquakes on the island. When he is very angry he causes Mount Etna to fill the sky with bright sparks and covers its slopes with lava flow. 



Hephaestus aka Vulcan 

Hephaestus is the Greek god of blacksmiths, metalworkers, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, fire and volcanoes. In Roman mythology he is known as Vulcan. He was thought to be the son of Zeus and the goddess Hera who cast him off Mount Olympus because of a deformity. As a blacksmith he made all the weapons of the gods of Olympus using the volcanos flames and lava to forge them. Mount Etna received its name from Aetna, a sea nymph and the consort of Hephaestus. Aetna was the Greek goddess of the volcano. Hephaestus spent much time on the volcano with her making strong thunderbolts for Zeus with the help of Cyclops and the volcano became known as his forge. His work is said to be the cause of volcanic activity and eruptions. According to legend it was Hephaestus who buried the giant Tifeo in the depths of the mountain. 


Polyphemus the Cyclop

The coastline from Aci Castello just north of Catania to Aci Trezza south of Taormina is called Riviera dei Ciclopi (The Riviera of the Cyclops). Aci Trezza is an ancient fishing village where three rocks stand prominently in the sea. These legendary rocks were said to be thrown there by the cyclop Polyphemus. In Homer's 'The Odyssey', after Ulysses escaped capture, Polyphemus broke rocks from Mount Etna and threw them at Ulysses and his men in a fit of anger as they escaped on their ship and the rocks landed in the sea. Polyphemus had been holding them hostage in his Mount Etna cave eating them one by one. Ulysses made Polyphemus drunk and blinded him by plunging a burning stake into his one eye whilst he lay asleep. The men escaped by clinging to the bellies of Polyphemus’s flock of sheep as the sheep left the cave to graze. Polyphemus had previously asked Ulysses what his name was and Ulysses replied "Nobody" so as they escaped other cyclops shouted and asked Polyphemus who had blinded him and he shouted "Nobody did it" therefore none of the other cyclops came to help him.


Aci and Galatea

Also along this coastline the myth of Aci and Galatea comes alive. In ancient times there lived Aci, a handsome shepherd who fell in love with Galatea, a beautiful sea nymph with whom Polyphemus the cyclop was infatuated by. Polyphemus was jealous of the two lovers so he murdered Aci by throwing him against a large rock. The gods took pity on Aci and transformed him into a river so that Galatea could swim in it and be forever with her beloved. Aci also gave his name to three towns on the coast and the River Aci has its mouth at Capo Mulini, a small fishing hamlet. 


Giardini Naxos

There is a legend of how the Bay of Naxos, that lays below the watchful eye of Taormina, was formed. Zeus awakened one morning tired, annoyed and nervous. He had spent the night with one of his many lovers meaning that once again he had betrayed his wife Hera. His sense of guilt oppressed him but his wife knew of all his constant betrayals and always forgave him. At heart Zeus loved Hera and wanted to repent his betrayal so he took the largest diamond from his crown and dropped it into the sea. Suddenly an island appeared, Sicily. He called his brothers Poseidon, god of the sea, and the god of fire Vulcan and ordered the first to form a beautiful creek which Homer later named "the Bay of Gods" and ordered the other to slide a river of lava to lock the bay. Vulcan went into the bowels of the mountains in the Alcantara Valley and thereafter the lava from the volcano of Moio Alcantara flowed down to the sea and formed the headland where in 734BC the first Greek settlers landed in Sicily. Teocle the Chalcidian was the first Greek who landed at Schisò where now stands the marina. Greek mythology says that Poseidon, angry at having received an undercooked liver "shook the waves and hit the fragile wood", causing Teocle's ship to sink and all his sailors to drown. Teocle survived by clinging to a piece of wreckage, he was driven by the waves and landed on a beach. Enchanted by the beauty of the area he saw he decided to stay. After that the first Greek settlers arrived from the Greek island of Naxos. In this beautiful "Litus" (land touched by the sea) Giardini Naxos was born. Giardini meaning gardens and then taking the name of the place where the first settlers originated from, although the name Giardini was added much later.


Gole Alcantara

Just inland, a short distance from Giardini Naxos and Taormina is the stunning Alcantara Valley. The Gole Alcantara (Alcantara Gorge) is a must see attraction with pristine ice cold mountain waters.  The gorge is a geological phenomenon that is a huge canyon caused by the eruptions of Mount Etna. The canyon is up to 50 metres in depth in places and is a powerful river of fresh water running down from Mount Etna and her surrounding mountains. Legend says that the goddess Venus liked to bathe in one of the natural pools formed by the rocky bed and the river. Vulcan, as you now know, lived nearby on Mount Etna and it was his forges on the volcano that caused the mountains to run hot water. He fell in love at first sight with Venus after seeing her bathing naked. As a sign of his love for her, Vulcan used his forges on Etna to make the water of her bathing pool warm. When he found out that Venus had another lover Vulcan stopped warming the river for her. To this day the water in the Alcantara River is icy cold.



Dionysus 

Dionysus was the Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, fertility, orchards and fruit, vegetation, insanity, ritual madness and religious ecstasy. Legend says that he voyaged across the seas and came across an unfamiliar plant. In order that it would survive the journey he placed the plant inside the body of a bird. It soon outgrew the bird, so he placed it inside the body of a lion, then as the plant continued to grow, inside a donkey. When he arrived in Sicily he planted it at Naxos and this was the islands first vineyard and so goes the proverb that ensued from this legend "A good glass of wine makes you as light as a bird, another and you are as courageous as a lion, but when you exaggerate with wine, you end up an ass!"


Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters supposedly located on opposite sides of the Straits of Messina between Sicily and Calabria. Scylla was described as a six headed sea monster and Charybdis as a whirlpool. They were regarded as maritime hazards located so close to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors, avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer's account, Ulysses was advised to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship and crew in the whirlpool. Because of such myths, the bad result of having to navigate between two hazards eventually entered proverbial use. Today the waters of the Straits of Messina are still known to be a rough.


A Fishermen's Prayer 

The little town of Scilla near Messina was described in ancient times by Homer in The Odyssey as Skylla, named after the mythological sea monster Scylla. The dangerous currents, whirlpools and winds in the straits threatened ancient sea journeys and those who escaped Scylla and Charybdis often ended up shipwrecked on the Skylla coast. These days Scilla is the modern day centre for swordfish angling and it is said that superstitious fishermen even today recite an ancient Greek prayer to lure the swordfish closer to the boats, because legend says that if the fish hear a word of Italian they would swim far away. On most fishing boats in Sicily you will see painted eyes of the Egyptian god Osiris on the prows which invoke protection and guidance. This symbol was probably brought to the island by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians and may have been a symbol to ward off sea monsters whilst out at sea.


King Arthur

Could Mount Etna be the mythical island of Avalon and the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur? Avalon literally means "the isle of fruit trees" and was supposedly the place that his sword Excalibur was forged and also where he was taken to recover from his fatal wounds of battle. One of the legends main characters, Morgan Le Fay also known as Morgana, was known as the immortal Queen of Avalon. Some say that King Arthur's final resting place is a castle whose hidden entrance could be in the many caves on Mount Etna. It is thought that Arthur travelled through Sicily in order to reach the holy land. Morgan Le fay gave her name to the form of a mirage common off the Straits of Messina known as Fata Morgana. Part of the Arthurian legend tells of the same illusion associated with the lady of the lake who is thought to be a water nymph who gives Arthur back Excalibur after he throws it into the lake. One of the ladies of the lake was also known as the Queen of Sicily. The Sicilians call Mount Etna Mongibello and the name 'Mongibel' is known in Arthurian legend as the other castle of Morgan le Fay. Hephaestus was the god of blacksmiths, did he forge Excalibur? There are many conspiracy theories, what do you think? 


The Hundred Horse Chestnut Tree

There are many large sweet chestnut trees throughout Europe but none can match up to the legendary Hundred Horse Chestnut in eastern Sicily. The exact age of the Hundred Horse Chestnut is not known and estimates vary widely from 2000 to 4000 years old and it has survived many volcanic eruptions. The tree is located in Sant'Alfio on the road to Linguaglossa. It is a sweet chestnut tree and it has been listed by the Guinness World Records as the greatest tree girth ever, noting that it had a circumference of 57.19M when it was first measured in 1780. Above ground the tree has since spilt into multiple large trunks, but below ground these trunks still share the same roots. Joanna of Aragon was the Queen of Naples, The Royal Family of Aragon had ruled Sicily since the War of the Vespers in 1282. Legend says that when a severe thunderstorm rolled in during a visit to Mount Etna she needed to seek cover. Fortunately, a nearby chestnut tree was able to provide shelter to both her and her company of one hundred mounted knights until the storm blew over. Henceforth the tree was then known as the Hundred Horse Chestnut or in Sicilian dialect, Castagnu di Centu Cavaddi. 


Phyllis and Demophon

Not everyone knows this but the origin of the almond nut is linked to a legend very dear to Sicily, that of Phyllis, a noble maiden and Demophon. Phyllis was the daughter of Theseus, the hero who had defeated the mythical Minotaur and her mother was Phaedra. Phyllis had fallen in love with the handsome Demophon who reciprocated her love. Demophon was a fearless warrior who had visited Sicily after the Trojan war. After marrying Phyllis he had to leave the island after he was recalled back to war duty. A distressed Phyllis went to the beach everyday hoping to see him return. The days passed which then became weeks and months, then years. Phyllis now certain that her beloved would never return died of a broken heart. The goddess Hera, protector of faithful loves, transformed her into a bare almond tree which became her grave. Finally, after another winter, Demophon returned and saw that spring had not yet arrived on the island. He had never forgotten his young wife but had not been able to return from war any earlier. Among the almond groves he found the grave and recognised his beloved and began to cry desperately. As his tears fell to the ground the tree miraculously became covered with beautiful delicate flowers. Thus, the miracle of the almond blossoming still in the heart of winter takes place every year in Sicily and is admired spectacularly in the countryside.


Tisbe and Piramo

In ancient times the mulberry tree for the Greeks was a plant rich in symbolism. It is thought that it was the Greeks or Phoenicians who brought the mulberry tree to the island, not just for the delicious fruit they bear but also because the leaves of the hardy mulberry tree are favoured by Silkworms. During Arab rule on the island and right into the Norman period Sicily became a major centre of silk production and silk weaving. In Sicily we have two types of mulberries, white and black. Tisbe and Piramo were very much in love and they were locked up in a cellar by their respective families because they did not agree with their love for each other. However the two young lovers did not lose heart and through a crack in the wall they managed to communicate with each other. In those clandestine meetings the pair agreed on a plan to escape and live the rest of their lives together in harmony. After distracting their guardians, who had been keeping an eye on them, the two lovers agreed to meet in a forest near a mulberry tree. Tisbe was the first to escape and flee but after seeing a lioness in the forest and seeing that the ground was blood stained, she ran away. During her race to flee she lost the shawl which she had wrapped around herself and thereafter seeing the abandoned garment the lioness tore it apart. Piramo, who arrived shortly after at the meeting place, saw Tisbe's bloody shawl and thought that his beloved had been killed. Desperately he pulled a dagger from his jacket and killed himself. Tisbe, now lost, returned to the mulberry tree to wait for her love and after seeing Piramo's lifeless body she took her own life with his dagger. Legend says that Piramo's blood transformed the fruits of the mulberry tree, which were usually white, into black which then comprised a very bright red juice. 


Arethusa and Alpheus

Arethusa was a Greek nymph who fled from her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and came up as a fresh water fountain on the island of Ortigia in Siracusa. The myth of her transformation begins in Arcadia when she came across a clear stream and began bathing not knowing that the stream was in fact the river god Alpheus whose waters flowed from Arcadia to the sea. Alpheus fell in love with Arethusa but she fled after discovering his presence and intentions as she wished to remain a chaste attendant of the goddess Artemis. After a long pursuit by Alpheus, she prayed to her goddess for protection. Artemis hid her in a cloud, but Alpheus was persistent with his love for her. Arethusa began to perspire profusely from fear and soon transformed into a stream. Alpheus then broke the ground allowing Arethusa another attempt to flee. Her stream travelled under the sea to Ortigia but love struck Alpheus followed her through the sea to reach her and mingle with her waters so that he could be with his love forever. The fountain of Arethusa is a natural fountain on the island of Ortigia boasting abundant papyrus plants and a variety of ducks happily swimming in the water where Arethusa returned to the earths surface. 


Cave of Pillirina

The Pillirina is a grotto located in a cove with crystal clear waters and untouched nature. It is a magical place just south of Siracusa. This grotto sets the scene for the story of a sad legend of love. Its name means pilgrim in Sicilian. A young girl fell in love with a simple sailor but her noble family did not approve of him and refused to let her marry him and so the two were forced to meet in secret inside the cave during the full moon. Sadly her beloved fell overboard during a voyage after a tidal wave hit his boat. One day, after waiting for her love, the girl jumped off the cliffs broken hearted once she realised that the sailor would never return. Still today local sailors say that on a full moon the girls silhouette appears still waiting for her true love. This area is popular with scuba divers due to its marine protected area. In 2008 a statue was lowered onto the sea floor in memory of a mermaid who passed away in 2016. Freediving World Champion Rossana Maiorca, born in Catania, loved to dive in the deep blue waters and so the memaid-like statue was dedicated to her and along with the colourful sea life and multicoloured algae a mermaid swims in the sea of Siracusa once again. There is also a story that her father the legendary diver Enzo Maiorca once saved a dolphin that was trapped in fishing nets. The tale is that the trapped dolphins mate incredibly reached out to him and his daughters whilst diving for help to free the pregnant mammal. The story says that the rescued dolphin came and kissed Enzo, however I believe that maybe this could be a modern myth.


Archimede's Eureka Moment

Archimedes was a mathematician, engineer, inventor, astronomer and possibly one of the worlds greatest scientists, at least the greatest in the classical age. Archimedes lived in Siracusa in the third century BC. At that time Siracusa was one of the most influential cities of the ancient world. It was also a hub of commerce, art and science. One of his inventions was the corkscrew and he also devised defences against invading armies. Archimedes has gone down in history as the guy who supposedly ran naked through the streets of Siracusa shouting "Eureka!" ("I have it!"). The legend behind that event was that he was charged with proving that a new crown made for the King of Siracusa, Hieron, was not pure gold as the goldsmith had claimed. Archimedes thought long and hard but could not find a method for proving that the crown was not solid gold. Soon after, he took a trip to the public baths and noticed that the water spilled over the edge of the bath as he got in and realised that the water displaced by his body was equal to the weight of his body. Knowing that gold was heavier than other metals it was clear the crown maker could have used a substitute. Forgetting that he was undressed, he went running naked down the streets of Siracusa to his king shouting "Eureka!"


Empedocles and Mount Etna

Empedocles was a Greek philosopher from Akragas, modern day Agrigento. According to Aristotle he died at the age of sixty, even though other writers have him living up to the age of one hundred and nine. Likewise, there are myths concerning his death, in one he is represented as being removed from earth by celestial gods, whereas others said that he perished in the flames of Mount Etna. Legend says that Empedocles leapt into the crater of Etna that he had deemed to be a god. He threw himself in so that the people of Sicily would believe that his body had vanished and that he had been turned into an immortal god by Etna. The volcano however threw back one of his bronze sandals revealing his deceit. Another legend maintains that he threw himself into the volcano to prove to his disciples that he was immortal and he actually believed he would come back as a god after being consumed by fire. In a Greek comedy written in the second century Empedocles’ final fate is revaluated. Rather than being incinerated in the fires of Mount Etna he is carried up into the heavens by a volcanic eruption. Although a bit singed by the ordeal, Empedocles survives and continues his life on the moon surviving by feeding on dew.


Donnafugata

In Italian, Donnafugata translates to "fugitive woman" or "the woman who fled". The legend of Donnafugata is mostly related to Donnafugata Castle located in the south eastern corner of Sicily near Ragusa. There are several versions of the story of its name but the most popular refers to the legend of the escape of Bianca of Navarra. The wicked Baron Cabrera fell in love with the Queen Bianca Navarra (Queen Blanche I of Navarre) who was the widow of King Martin I of Aragon. The Queen was hiding from the Count because she did not reciprocate his love, the Count really only wanted to marry her to gain leadership over Sicily. She hid in Donnafugata Castle until it was taken under siege during which she was helped to flee to Palermo. While this story may be true it might not be where the name of the castle originated from. Another source claims that the name Donnafugata refers to Queen Maria Carolina, wife of King Ferninand IV, who had fled from Naples to escape the French troops. She found refuge and was confined to a palace in Santa Margherita di Belice by Lord William Bentinck the British military governor of Sicily from 1811-1816. However, that location is in the northwest of the island far from Donnafugata Castle. Wherever the name originated from the castle certainly looks mythical, however most of you might recognise it from the popular TV series Inspector Montalbano.


Cefalùs Medieval Washhouse

Cefalù is a charming seaside town on the northern coast of Sicily. In its historic centre you will find the Lavatoio Medievale. This old wash house dates back to medieval times and was used by the inhabitants of the town for centuries. The structure was built over the River Cefalino which stems from a source in the Madonie Mountains. The original structure was much closer to the sea but it was demolished in 1514. The river on which the washhouse was rebuilt on is said to have originated from the tears of a nymph who accidently caused the death of her unfaithful lover. At the top of the stairs there is a stone plaque that reads "Here flows Cefalino, healthier than any other river, purer than silver, colder than snow". 


Isola delle Femmine

Isola delle Femmine (The Island of the Women) is a small rocky uninhabited island north west of Sicily and is part of the province of Palermo. There are many legends about the origin of its name. One such legend is that during Roman times there was a prison for women on the island. This legend of a prison appears to have given rise to many variations of stories, with the most popular being a story that thirteen Turkish maidens condemned for serious crimes were set adrift at sea by relatives, only to be shipwrecked on the island where they lived alone for seven years before they were found by their relatives who had a change of heart. It is said that they named the island Capaci meaning here is the peace, only later it was renamed Isola delle Femmine. It is also said that possibly as late as the 19th Century the island was used as a refuge for women and children when a serious disease spread through their village on Sicily so as to prevent them from being afflicted by the illness. Some say that there was once a wild tribe of beautiful exotic women on the island who laid in wait to ambush and seduce passing sailors. Whatever the legend maybe, in 2019 Isola delle Femmine was put up for sale by its current owners for a mere €3 million. So if you have some spare cash let me know and maybe we can create our own legends.


Holy Cannoli

Frutta di Martorana (marzipan fruits) are a  sweet tradition in Sicily. You will see these tempting sweets in the windows of pasticcerias with marzipan replicas such as strawberries, peaches, figs and oranges. Legend says that the story behind the marzipan tradition started in Palermo at the Convent of the Martorana. As a prank on the Archbishops yearly Easter visit the nuns of the convent created dozens of marzipan fruits and painted them to appear like oranges. They then strung these from trees in the cloister garden and the Archbishop believed that the trees had a miraculous fruit bearing season and complimented the nuns profusely. The Cannolo Siciliano is one of Sicily's signature creations with Arabic roots and was supposedly invented in the harems of Caltanisetta. Legend says that this sweet treat proved so seductive for the Benedictine monks on the island that they spent fortunes on them earning them the nickname "Porci di Cristo" (Pigs of Christ) hence the phrase "HOLY CANNOLI!!!"


The Moorish Heads

Sicily is well known for its beautiful and colourful ceramics and one of the most popular are the heads of Moorish characters. The first story of these Moorish heads starts in Palermo. Around the year 1000AD there lived a beautiful young maid with fair skin and blue eyes who dedicated all her time to her beloved plants and flowers on her balcony. One day a young Moor saw her on her balcony and fell in love at first sight. The couple began a passionate love affair however the Moor concealed a secret. One day the maid found out that her lover would have to leave to return to his wife and children in the middle east. The maid was overtaken by anger and one night after he had fallen asleep cut off his head but then decided that she would miss his handsome face and so she made his head into a plant pot and placed a shoot of basil into it so that she could continue her love for him by caring for it. Soon the maidens grief stricken tears watered the basil and it grew big and lush arousing the envy of her neighbours who went to local ceramic artists asking for vases that looked similar. A second version of this story relates to a girl of noble origin who led a secret life with a young Moor but their forbidden love was discovered and they were both punished by her family by being beheaded and the shame of their affair was shown as a warning to others by displaying their heads on their balconies, hence why the Moorish heads are usually made in pairs. 


I hope you have enjoyed my choice of Sicilian Myths and Legends.

There are so many more ....

If you love mythological and history please do ask me for my recommendations for expert guides in Sicily. 

You can discover more about some of my Myths and Legends in these posts from my Blog archive:

Persephone's Island https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2018/08/persephones-island.html

The Trinacria & How Sicily Was Born https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-trinacria-how-sicily-was-born.html

The Coast of the Cyclops https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-coastline-from-aci-castello-just.html

Acireale ... Myths, History and Carnival https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2016/01/acireale-myths-history-and-carnival.html

Mount Etna & The Legend of King Arthur https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2019/01/mount-etna-legend-of-king-arthur.html

The Legends of the Moorish Heads https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-legends-of-moorish-heads.html

Giardini Naxos ... My Town https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/02/giardini-naxos-my-town.html

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