Among the symbols of this island there is the art of pottery. It is difficult to establish a date for the start of this tradition, as there are no documents demonstrating the origin of the craft. However, it is certain that the approach to the production and decoration of pottery derives from Arab Muslim influence. The city with oldest tradition in this field is Caltagirone, the name deriving from the Arab Qalat al Ghiran, which means the fortress of vases. In 827 Arab potters, expert in many techniques (such as glazing), established themselves in this land, with its red clayey terrain, ideal for producing pottery. The quartare, majolica jars from Caltagirone used to contain honey and spices, are famous. In addition to these, vases with relief decoration, statues, washbasins and decorative elements for the facades of churches and private houses were also produced: furthermore, starting from the 17th century, tiled floors were imposed in Caltagirone. Today local production is still alive, thanks to the State Institute for the Art of Pottery.
Two hundred years of Arab domination also left their mark on the cooking. It was indeed the Saracens who introduced the Sicilian people to pasta and the rice which they use to prepare arancini, to invent marzipan sweets, cannoli, sorbet, water ice and the famous cassata. This last is a soft cake made with sponge soaked in cherry liqueur and filled with a creamy mixture made with ricotta cheese and sugar, to which candied fruit, pieces of plain chocolate and pistachio nuts are added; the sweet should be covered with sugar frosting and may be decorated as one pleases. Another speciality is Sicilian water ice and ice-cream. Water ice is also an invention of the Middle East: legend has it that the Arabs used to mix snow gathered from the peak of Mount Etna with honey and citrus fruit juice and to eat this together with bread. Hence the uniquely Sicilian tradition of eating water ice in soft buns.
An ancient tradition handed down over time from master to pupil is that of the Sicilian puppet master. The puppets are dressed in bright armour and equipped with brightly-coloured plumes and shiny swords. They officially date back to the beginning of the 19th century, when the people adored shows with these marionettes, which were brought by travelling artists and told the stories of French heroes and paladins. The puppet master, locally known as the puparo is the artist behind this tradition. After having carved the wood, dressed and painted his puppets, he hides behind the scenes and begins the performance, manoeuvring and giving a voice to the various figures which present themselves on the stage, challenging each other in entertaining duels to conquer love and glory.