Naples is synonymous with presepe or Nativity scenes. From the big cathedrals to public squares right down to the small houses – there’s hardly any place where you wouldn’t find one! Setting up a nativity scene is a source of great pride for these Italians and is an art that is passed on from generation to generation. The nativity scene is said to have been first created by St Francis of Assisi in 1223 when he conducted a Christmas mass in the town of Greccio. It is usually set up around December 8th and continues right up to epiphany on January 6th.
Photo by House Of Sims
Via San Gregorio Armeno
You haven’t seen Naples if you haven’t visited the Via San Gregorio Armenio. Located in the old town, as you stroll through these alleys, you get the feeling that little has changed in this place in the last hundred years. The streets are flanked with shops making nativity scenes with some of the vendors dressed as shepherds to add to the festive atmosphere. The Neapolitan artistes are known to make some of the best statuettes. Some of the well known names who have been in this business for years are Ferrigno, Gianotti and Maddaloni. The terracotta figures comprise of the classic Christmas figurines like the Virgin Mary, Infant Jesus and the wise men to impromptu characters like Italian superstars and even the current Prime Minister!
You can actually watch the whole process of creating these beautiful artifacts. What will amaze you are the intricacies of the design and painstaking attention to seemingly minor details. Apart from the traditional manger setting, you can have a nativity scene in a village complete with small shops and houses. Little items like pots and pans and a hot oven to signify lunch is on the way will amuse you. Trees and little lakes and even little bridges add to the scenery. Miniscule people have tea or sell wares in shops giving a sneak peek into the every day life of the people of Naples. If not for religious sentiments, it’s a great idea to buy at least one as a souvenir of this little town.
Context tours offer special tours of the Christmas traditions in groups or privately. This is led by art historians, architects and other professionals who know the city inside out and will give you some lovely insights into the history and design of the city.
Villa Communale,Via Caracciolo
Aside from the nativity scene statuettes and figurines you can also get a load of ceramics, handmade embroidery, glass and Christmas decorations at the Villa Communale market.
Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore
What makes the nativity scenes in this church exclusive is the fact that it is set up in tiny walnut shells , so it’s a definite must see!
National Museum of San Martino.
Don’t leave Naples without visiting the National museum of San Martino. Numerous frescoes, marble paneling and floor mosaics make this museum quite breathtaking. It also houses one of the largest and finest nativity scenes in the world known as Presepe Cuciniello which comprises of 162 people, 80 animals and 28 angels!
Naples has truly lived up to its name as the ‘city of the creche’.
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