The Trinacria, also known as Triskelion, is the familiar three-legged symbol of Sicily, Italy’s unique little nugget.
If you visit the island you will be sure to see a Trinacris, symbol of Sicily, everywhere and if you wish to take one of them home you’ll have a large choice, from sophisticated ceramic Trinacria plaques to inexpensive fridge magnets. Of course, we do hope that you’ll go for one of the stunning Sicilian pottery pieces that are handmade for you by local artisans.
Anyway, regardless of your choice, you may want to impress your travel companions and learn something about the origins of the Trinacria or Triskelion and some fascinating stories surrounding the birth of Sicily and its three-legged symbol.
Allow me the pleasure to start from what I like best: the stories.
According to Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the famous biographer of Renaissance painters, sculptors and architects, Luca della Robbia’s technique was so revolutionary that he’d be praised for it for many centuries to come. He explained how it was not such a hard work to make a clay sculpture and the only reason why clay had not been used much so far was that it could not be preserved over time. Luca, after many experiments, managed to invent a special mixture of minerals. This glaze, used to coat the sculptures before the firing in a suitable kiln, would make them almost eternal.
Caltagirone was founded as early as the 2nd century B.C. on a steep hill made of clay. The abundance and the good quality of the raw material encouraged the making of pottery and its trade.
First the Romans, then the Greeks, the Arabs, the Spanish and the Normans dominated the city, bringing in their traditional designs and techniques which merged into a unique ceramic production and one of the most distinctive Sicilian pottery traditions.
The Nativity figures were certainly part of the local production already during the Middle Age, as reported in many documents, although no actual example has ever been found due to the terrible earthquake that destroyed the city in 1693.
However, it can be argued that no proper artistic production took place before the 18th century. At this time the more talented potters started to make hand modeled freestanding figures that represented not only the key characters in the Nativity crib, but also the local characters in their daily tasks: the cheese maker, the hunter, the shepherd and so on.
The Real world became part of the Sacred world, carrying into the Nativity Scene the ever changing social scenario, the attitude of people, their everyday clothes and even their common gestures.