Ah, Napoli! A city with a rough reputation, there are so many hidden delights, and wonderful food, that you can’t discount Naples if you’ve never been there. A few weeks ago I spent most of a short weekend outside of Naples but I made sure we put aside time for lunch when we first arrived, and before we jumped on the Cirucumvesuviana (the train that goes around the volcano Vesuvius).
One of my favorite parts of Naples is Spaccanapoli, a neighborhood deep in the heart of Naples that is full of interesting places to eat, people watch, and of course, buy figures for your presepe, Christmas nativity scenes.
There are two main streets lined with these presepe shops (as well as other touristy-like businesses). Via San Gregorio Armeno is one of these streets and the shops in the weeks leading up to Christmas approach a near frenzy of activity with the crowded streets packed full of hopeful shoppers.
The presepe is normally made of wood, and you can see some craftsman making them right in their open-door shops as you walk by. After you have the structure of your presepe, you have to fill it up! There are of course the more classic figures that you’d expect to see in a nativity scene: baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the 3 kings, and all the animals in the manger.
But why stop at just the manger? Many Italian households will build entire cities around their presepe and will take up entire tables or floor spaces with the nativity scene. Some of the nativity figurines will move like these below – taking bread out of the oven, chopping wood and doing other nativity-like activities. You can build entire populations and stories if you so desire – get crazy with your imagination!
The important thing is Baby Jesus is absent from the manager until midnight on December 24th. Usually the youngest person present will bring the Baby Jesus into the manger as the others look on.
Perhaps you hadn’t planned on adding Barack Obama to your nativity scene, but you definitely can! Below Mr. President are the words “Sono bello, sono giovane, sono abbronzato” – (I’m handsome, I’m young, I’m tanned) – words that Obama has obviously never said about himself, but Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said this regarding Obama, directly after he won the presidency.
Sometimes though, when I looked down a particular market street, I lost track of where I was. It almost seemed like the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, with some covered porticoes and alleyways that never end.
In Naples, the edicole sacre (sacred shrines) – also called madonnine, madonnelle, nicchie votive, santelle, capitelli votivi, and tabernacoli – are where certain saints or other religious figures are displayed, embedded directly into buildings, courtyards and corners and become integrated with the neighborhood. Offers of prayers and candles can be placed directly at the base. The religious figure, the focus of the shrine, is usually enclosed in glass and protected slightly from the elements as you can see by the green awning above this one (below). There are so many that often you have to be looking around and up otherwise you can miss them!
This edicola sacra is obviously color-coordinated for a reason. Not all spaces are consecrated or will be devoted to the Madonna (Mary) such as this one below, but you can sometimes find local patron saints (Naples has 50!!) and photos of local residents that have passed away tucked inside the space. This resident decided the door should match the protective awning which matches Mary’s cloak.
Have you been to Naples? Love it or leave it?