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Christmas Shopping in Naples, Italy

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Via San Gregorio Armeno -Naples’ street of Nativity workshops is Naples’ cultural and historical pulse center.

Via San Gregorio Armeno is so named after the baroque church and monastery on this street. In the eighth century Armenian nuns fleeing from the Byzantine Empire reached Naples with the relics of the Bishop of Armenia, St. Gregory. At the centre of the city, connecting the modern vibrant city with its ancient heritage, Via San Gregorio Armeno has seen the footprints of every local of Naples and every tourist to the city for centuries.

However its greatest attraction is what makes this already vibrant street come to an almost magical state of existence. It is the little shops selling the terracotta nativity scenes with quaint figurines. Open all year long, a special time to visit this street, for obvious reasons, is just before and during the Christmas season. The Christmas season in Italy begins with Christmas Eve on the twenty-fourth of December and continues till Epiphany on the sixth of January. The Nativity Scene is the most important symbol of Christmas in Italy, even more than Babo Natale- or as he is popularly known, Santa Clause. The Italian Nativity scene or the crib is called presepe. During the whole season, every house and every church has a Nativity Scene occupying an important position in the Christmas display. In fact, Christmas trees were not a part of the decoration in Naples until the middle of the last century. The Neapolitan Nativity Scene, however, is very different from those known in other parts of Europe like Germany, Austria or even Northern Italy. In Naples, the crib abounds with everyday people. Madonna and Jesus are still indispensable, obviously, but the shepherd with his animals, the farmer’s wife, the children playing, all occupy an equally central position.

The street of Nativity shops in Naples

Numerous little shops have in their window displays recreations of the most important night in the Christian world- the birth of Jesus Christ. More than half a million tourists make their way to the Via San Gregorio Armeno. At the shops in Via San Gregorio Armeno there is plenty for even just the window shopper. For those not religiously inclined, these nativity scenes are beautifully imagined doll houses. And for those to whom Christmas is more than just a festive season, this is an opportunity to buy a piece of Christmas legacy. On sale are not only statues of the Virgin Mother and her Son but of various household items like pots and pans and furniture. Though not edible, equally delicious looking replicas of Christmas feasts and gastronomic delights occupy an important part of the Nativity Scene displays.

Farm animals stand alongside the traditional shepherds. Some adventurous artists even put in caricatures of politicians in their displays. For the more artistically inclined visitor there is everything that one would need to create their own Nativity Scene available here. Not just figurines and homes but also little lakes with bridges to go over them and trees to go around. There are also small motor powered waterfalls, grasslands, towers, and so many more things. Almost everything on sale here is handmade. Though December is the most crowded month, September and November are both great times to visit Via San Gregorio Armeno because this is when the artists begin to ready their shops.

A tourist can actually watch the process of creating these beautiful decorative pieces. Several of the shops have been in this business for generations and consequently have names recognizable to everyone who knows anything about these cribs and their creation. Some of the famous names include Ferrigno, Giannotti and Maddaloni. The Neapolitan Tourist Board and the Neapolitan Association of the Friends of the Christmas Crib have done much to popularize this street’s main occupation. The Neapolitan Tourist Board even offers prizes to the best creations and promotes several cultural activities. Via San Gregorio Armeno has much to contribute to Naples being called ‘the city of the crèche.’

Sights other than cribs:

The church and monastery of San Gregorio Armeno was a very wealthy convent. The beginning of the church goes all the way back to the middle of the sixteenth century. The well preserved interiors of the monastery showcase frescoes painted by Luca Giordano, intricate wooden ceiling, and a grand central fountain in the Cloister made of marble with Matteo Bottigliero’s sculpture of Christ and the Samaritan. There is also the staircase that the nuns used during their atonement – the Holy Staircase. The tourist can catch a breathtaking view of the Bay of Naples. However, the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno is not the only important building on this street. Via San Gregorio Armeno is also famously known as the platea nostriana. St Nostriano, a fifteenth century archbishop in Naples, had baths built here that catered to the poor.

Via San Gregorio Armeno -Naples’ street of Nativity workshops seems like it is stuck in a timeless world of a dream with minuscule people flocking the make believe streets and lakes. For fans of these Nativity Scenes I suggest another Naples landmark, though a slight detour from the Via San Gregorio Armeno. The Museo Nazionale di San Martino houses the famous Presepe Cuciniello, the largest nativity scene in the world. It consists of a hundred and sixty two people, eighty animals and almost four hundred and fifty other miniatures.

Naples Hotels recommended by

The Hotel Nesis is a 4-star hotel located in Naples city center, only a few steps from the Science Museum. Member of the Space Hotels Group, the Nesis Naples offers an array of hotel amenities including rooms with sea view, Internet point, free car park, fully-equipped gym and fitness room, as well as business facilities.

The Mercure Hotels Garibaldi is an elegant hotel conveniently situated close to Naples central train station (Piazza Garibaldi).  Member of the Mercure hotel chain, the Mercure Naples Garibaldi boasts modern hotel amenities including comfortable guest rooms, wireless Internet access, business facilities and free shuttle service to Naples city center.

Photo of Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, Italy originally posted by [tox]

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer grace a.

Grace lives in India. She loves to travel, not as a tourist, but to soak in the secrets of the nooks and crannies of this amazing planet. She also loves words, expressed through the medium of writing. She firmly believes that a well crafted piece of writing can accomplish ANYTHING!

4 responses to “Christmas Shopping in Naples, Italy”

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  1. John Clayton says:
    December 11th, 2008 at 11:43

    Great article. I’m planning to visit Naples next year and never thought about doing it at Xmas when things might have been sorted out and it would be quiet.
    I’ve found an alternative place to stay thanks to Yes a monastery in the middle of Naples for reasonable price(including a booking fee). If you are thinking of Naples I’d check the site out as the references seen credible.

  2. marina de martino says:
    December 21st, 2008 at 14:13

    The Americans look for neapolitan angels,little statues in terracotta, when come to visit Naples.Nowadays, more than last years they’ll find what they want! Obama is laughing among some other vip, within the fantastic word of the cribs made of humanity…..whispering the’Birth’!
    marina de martino

  3. alex rossi says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 23:32

    Napoli is beautiful,there are no words to describe the atmosphere in this city throughout the year!
    Hi,i’m alex, i’m neapolitan and i’m trying to help foreign tourists to organize better their trip to Naples Italy, for free. In particular i give smart tips for American tourist which come to Naples with cruising. If you want, after choose your hotels with Venere, you can look at my small website:
    See u!!!

  4. Maggie says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 13:17

    First of all congratulations your article is amazing.
    I was wondering since I am going to Naples this Christmas but I am unfortunattely ariving on Christmas Eve around 11 o clock at night, if you have any idea whether or not we could find a restaurant to have a christmas eve dinner.
    I know it is very late at night but maybe due to the festivities they remain open?

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