Italian Nativity scenes
The towns transformed by the magic of Christmas
The centuries-old Italian tradition of recreating the nativity scene provides the perfect theme for a country-wide itinerary seeking out those ancient villages and towns which, each Christmas, transform into open air theaters where performances involving the whole community are staged.
Piedmont's living nativity scene
"A town like a nativity scene, a nativity scene like a town": this is the perfect definition of Marchetto di Mosso, in the Biella province, and of its Giant Nativity Scene.
Comprised of more than 140 life-size figures, Marchetto di Mosso's nativity scene features statues which bear a striking likeness to the town's present day population!
Teno's great mechanical Christmas machine
The town of Sutrio, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, is famous for its woodwork. Here, each year, "Borghi e Presepi" (''Hamlets and Nativity Scenes) is held: an exhibition which involves local craftsmen in the creation of nativity scenes in the town's courtyards, stables and loggias, and beside the "fogolar", the fireplaces which are typical of the Carnia region'''.
The exhibition's main attraction is the "Teno Nativity" which Gaudenzio Straulino, a Sutrio-born artisan, took some 30 years to make. The work faithfully reproduces the town's buildings and inhabitants, and brings them to life by way of a series of ingenious mechanisms.
Cesanatico's floating crib
In Romagna it is Cesenatico's nativity scene that draws the crowds at Christmas. The town's "Marine Nativity Scene" is created on the water, using the ancient boats belonging to the town's Floating Maritime Museum. Here, the story of Christ's arrival on earth is adapted to coincide with the local maritime tradition, with Jesus being born, not in a stable, but aboard a fishing boat, surrounded by dolphins and the early 16th century port, which was designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
On the border between Marche and Romagna, Sant'Agata Feltria is one of the loveliest towns in the Montefeltro district. Sant'Agata's Christmas market is a major event, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Within the walls of the town's 11th century Fregoso Castle, an exhibition of nativity scenes by artists from every corner of the globe is held
Each Christmas, the town of Corciano, in the province of Perugia, produces a nativity scene with life-size statues clothed in medieval style costumes created by local tailors and seamstresses.
The setting for the nativity is the town itself, its picturesque alleyways and courtyards making a beautiful Umbrian version of Bethlehem.
In Petrignano, another Umbrian village, just a few kilometers from Assisi, the town's living nativity scene is staged in the medieval castle and on the banks of the Chiasco River.
Many members of the local community are involved in the impressive religious and historical reconstruction: helping to build the extremely realistic ancient Jewish village and acting in the various scenes.
Cradle in the cave
The Sicilian town of Custonaci, in the Trapani province, is famous both for its marble quarries and for the numerous caves, which were inhabited here since pre-historic times. The most fascinating of these caves is the Grotta Mangiapane, in the district of Scuraci. Today, this rocky landscape provides the stage for a nativity play involving more than 300 "actors", who recount the life of the shepherds and agricultural workers living in the countryside of Trapani in the late 19th century.
The nativity scene in the town of Montalbano Elicona, in the province of Messina and close to the Nebrodi Mountains, is equally impressive. Here, the inhabitants bring traditional trades and customs back to life, in the shadow of the town's Federico II Castle
Hotels in the area
Mazara del Vallo
Orta San Giulio