Moira Orfei – Queen of the Italian Circus

Who knows how different my life would have been if my parents had been acrobats in a circus rather than government workers.  Perhaps in another life, I might come back as Moira Orfei, the queen of the Italian circus.

Circus queen & elephant

Moira (born Miranda in 1931 in Friuli-Venezia Giulia) participated in her family’s circus act, before founding her owncircus queen wearing turban company in 1960, called The Circus Moira Orfei.  Her performances included her work as a trapeze artist, trainer of doves, and an elephant tamer, which make for a fairly impressive resume.  Even more impressive is her magnificent black hair, piled on top of her head like a tower that defies gravity.  Coupled with her heavy makeup and flamboyant clothing she is hard to miss in a crowd.  On a bad hair day, she wears an exotic turban.

She has kept this extravagant look her entire life, and in the process has become one of the most recognized faces in Italy, with circus posters all over Italy bearing her unmistakable image.  It was the film producer Dino de Laurentiis who told her “never to change, because only women without a personality continually change their look.”  To this Moira observes that in Italy “there are 60 million of us, but I’m the only one like me.”  

Even without meeting the other 59,999,999, I’d venture to say that is an accurate statement.

circus poster Moira Orfei

Though she no longer performs, she still travels with the circus in a huge and outlandishly decorated caravan that is her home, and comes onstage to wave and blow kisses to the spectators, truly deserving her self-proclaimed status as “Queen of the Circus.”

caravan with Moria Orfei

7 thoughts on “Moira Orfei – Queen of the Italian Circus

  1. This made me smile! Many years ago, about 1980 I think, we came across posters all over the towns around Lake Garda advertising “Moira degli Elefanti”. We were intrigued by the name – and the image – but sadly didn’t have the opportunity to go to the circus. In later years we have spotted her posters in quite a few places over Italy, and regard her as an essential part of the Italian experience! Thanks for this!

  2. Just discovered your blog. Brilliant! Just got back from Puglia where I had latte di mandorle. Trying to find out more about it, I found your blog.
    Never been to Sicily and that’s next on my list.

    1. Glad to hear that you enjoy my blog. Interestingly enough, I, too have just returned from Puglia, where I didn’t have almond milk but plenty of other great stuff that I will be writing about soon. Now I have to figure out how to work that burrata off my thighs…. Let me know when you come to Sicily and I’ll give you some tips. Ciao, Anita

  3. Hi!
    Do you happen to have some Moira Orfei or other circus posters? Please let me know. You can email me your response.
    Thanks in advance!

  4. I saw Circo Moira Orfei in Tehran, Iran in 1977. Had front row seats and it was wonderful. We were close enough to smell the animals and we even got hosed down by one of the elephants. It was very up close and personal – not like RB, B&B where the best seats are still a long away from the stage.

    My wife and I are both of Italian descent and one of our goals is to visit Italy. We will definitely try to see the Circo if possible.

    (as an aside, my family name is the same as a famous Italian Pasta)

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