The making of nativity scenes is one of the most famous crafts in Naples. Setting up a nativity scene also has a much longer tradition in the city than the Christmas tree, which only came into vogue in the 1950s. Via San Gregorio Armeno is almost entirely dedicated to presepe making.
Nativity scenes Naples
Naples’ most famous nativity scene is the so-called Cuciniello, on display in the San Martino Museum.
The word for “nativity scene” is presepe in Italian and the presepi made in Naples are the most original and famous in Italy.
Unlike in other countries, in Neapolitan nativity scenes, ordinary everyday life is at the forefront and the figures are not limited to the usual Jesus, Joseph, Mary, three Kings and some shepherds, etc.
Although the Madonna (who is venerated in Naples) and Jesus himself naturally occupy an important position, it may very well happen that there are very different but very lifelike figures next to the three saints. This could then be a well-known political figure, or a football player, or someone else who has been in the news recently, but also an ordinary peasant woman working in the kitchen.
In Naples, the nativity scene is set up as early as 8 December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary), but Jesus is not placed in his manger until the night of 24 December.
Until the 16th century, nativity scenes were only seen in monasteries. Later, aristocratic families began to place cribs in their residences. Initially, the figurines were still only manufactured in monasteries. However, these did not give a good picture of everyday life, as the wealthy families had no idea how ordinary people really lived.
More on Nativity scenes in Naples
Via San Gregorio Armeno is famous for the large number of shops there dedicated to making nativity scenes. Apart from the human figures, all kinds of objects from everyday life can be seen (and bought) here. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, many figures are now factory-made.
The Museo Nazionale di San Martino houses a famous nativity scene called Cuciniello, where 162 people, 80 animals and 450 miniature objects can be admired (see photo above).