Puppets, papyrus, Moorish heads and coral… There is so much to discover on this wonderful isle through its most famous crafts
27 Jan 2021
Sicily boasts a millenary tradition of handicrafts. Indeed, few other Italian regions can claim a greater variety of artisanal output. Little wonder, these local treasures continue to beguile tourists from all over the world and inspire designers, jewellers, artists and creatives in every field. What with their quality, precision workmanship, exclusive materials and attention to detail, it is impossible not to fall in love with such unique pieces. Here is a list of the most famous handicrafts, items you may well want to take home with you after your next trip to Sicily.
Pupi are marionettes that first appeared around 1800 to stage fights between knights. Each Pupo portrays a specific knight with his own custom cape and armour. This ancient tradition has won UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Masterpiece status. Sicily’s largest collections of puppets are at the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino and at the Museo Etnografico Siciliano Giuseppe Pitrè in Palermo.
One of the many things that make Syracuse so unique is that apart from the banks of the Nile, it is the only place in the world where papyrus grows. Syracuse’s biggest papyrus-growing areas are in the Arethusa Spring and along the banks of the River Ciane. To walk these banks is to be immersed in a forest of these long, thin-stemmed plants topped with large green tufts, to feel unforgettable emotions and take beautiful natural photographs. Documents chronicling Syracuse’s papyrus paper manufacturing heritage are at the Museo del Papiro, which specializes in the study, preservation and dissemination of papyrus-related knowledge. The Museum houses a collection of papyri dating from the fifteenth century BC to the eighth century AD. Not only is it the sole collection of papyri in Sicily, it is the largest in southern Italy.
Ceramic vases shaped like Moorish Heads are so common in Sicily that they have become a symbol of the island. These unique objects often adorn people’s balconies at home, and are also used as decorative accessories. However, not everyone knows the legend behind the Moorish Heads. Legend has it that during Arab rule over Sicily, a beautiful girl lived in the Kalsa, the ancient quarter of the city of Palermo. The girl spent almost all of her time at home, devoting herself to tending the plants on her balcony. One day, a young Moor caught sight of the beautiful girl and fell in love. The maiden returned the young man’s affections, but when she found out that he was about to return to his homeland, she killed him in his sleep and turned his head into a vase. She then displayed it on her balcony, so that her beloved would be with her forever.
Sciacca coral has unique characteristics that distinguish it from all other types of coral. Its colour varies from deep orange to pale salmon pink, characterized by brownish and sometimes black spots from its volcanic origin, as well as brownish fossil coral “burned” by high temperatures. Coral fishing and processing has over the centuries inextricably been linked with Sicilian history. At their coral workshops, master coral-workers showcase incredible expertise, using time-honoured processing techniques to meticulously cut, chamfer and work minute coral branches one by one, combining them to create the most diverse and original shapes.
Where to stay in Sicily
So many places, such a vast area to discover... Because “All Sicily is beautiful”, it may seem difficult to choose where to overnight on an island tour... A great place to start is in Catania, at the Palace Catania | UNA Esperienze, a hotel located right in the heart of the city with breathtaking views of Mount Etna. You’ll definitely want to spend a night in Syracuse to walk the banks of the Ciane River in search of papyrus... Here, we suggest UNAHOTELS One Siracusa, a stone’s throw from the seaside and within easy reach of the city’s historic centre. While you’re there, make sure you try out the famous Akademia restaurant! Last but not least, if you’re interested in a side trip to the Aeolian Islands, Gruppo UNA has just the place for you: perched on a cliff overlooking the turquoise seas off the island of Salina, L'Ariana Isole Eolie | UNA Esperienze hotel is sure to make your trip to Sicily even more special.