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The most beautiful nativity scene in Naples is Naples itself. You just have to go there to realize this. Do it by train, by car, by boat, as you prefer. You will notice Sant'Elmo Castle immediately: it overlooks the city from a mountain top. Climb up there: you will remember that sight forever. You’ll have Naples at your feet, all around you, nestled in stone, so close that you could touch it, yet distant, unreachable, in its high-density that evens out everything, under a threatening yet beloved Vesuvius. The impression is that of a nativity scene, with its forced perspective, starting from the Holy Family and widening to include ordinary people, who have come to pay their homage to the Infant Jesus, then to a village with its inhabitants and buildings, the inn, the shops, the well, the river and the bridge, to finally embrace faraway countries, perched in the mountains, while dawn slowly turns into sunset and then into a starry night.
Naples is the home of nativity scenes. All the great artists who have created precious, ageless crèches are from here. They were born in these streets and lanes. If you wish to see one of the most beautiful nativity scenes in Naples, get into Saint Martin’s Charterhouse and Museum, whose entrance is just a few steps away from Sant'Elmo Castle. There is the famous nativity donated to the city by Michele Cuciniello: a masterpiece of eighteenth-century art, consisting of around 800 pieces. You cannot but admire it in all its grandeur, with its scenic and impressive crowd of characters, including angels spiralling down from Heaven, chiselled down to the smallest detail. You can admire the details of the infinitely small embroidered clothes of its characters, their pottery, silver, down to the strings of their musical instruments, the fruit, the food, hanging from the ceiling. Nothing is left to chance and everything has a meaning. The three Kings, for example, bearing gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh, to Jesus the Savior - always start from the east, where the sun rises, following the comet. You can notice the characters representing the different trades and crafts. They are all linked to a different month, as in medieval iconography: the chestnut seller - November; the tomato seller - July; the sowing farmer – September, the harvesting farmer - October. The sleeping shepherd, surrounded by his herd, who sooner or later will be awakened by the good tidings. And then the river, symbolizing the flowing of life, from birth to death; the bridge allowing you to move from the realm of the living to that of the dead; the inn, a perilous place, that Jesus’s birth lights up and purifies. I must confess that I stood a long time in front of this artwork, and I spent an even longer time visiting the rest of the museum and the beautiful charterhouse. If the Cuciniello nativity scene is sheltered behind a crystal, beautiful but untouchable, on leaving the museum and going down into the city, you can see and touch the beauty and richness of the artistic Neapolitan nativity scenes in San Gregorio Armeno, the street where they are manufactured and sold. You will reach it by following the a well-known straight, Spaccanapoli, a wonder in itself, full of life and monuments. It is hard to describe what you will find, as it is a journey into a world of colour and imagination, an uninterrupted sequence of stalls and art shops, crammed with everything you may need to create a masterpiece. Try to go there before Christmas, between the end of October and the first week of December: you will find statuettes of all shapes and sizes, in terracotta, plaster, hand-painted and clad in real clothing. How much do they cost? Between few euros and a few thousand. You'll see - along the way - patios that look like wings of a theatre stage, laboratories that manufacture, in addition to precious statuettes, set designs for nativity scenes, and furniture. They are made of cardboard, papier-maché, or cork. They also manufacture the buildings, the animals, the trees, the bushes, the rocks, along with the complex mechanisms providing the characters and their tools with their movement. You can find tables and chairs, beds, dressers, lanterns, carpets and draperies, fruit crates, sacks of grain, plates, glasses and barrels. In short, a whole tiny world to build a world inspired by Naples, Naples of the eighteenth century. Here are thousands of nativity scenes, all filled with the same wonder: Naples is the most extraordinary nativity scene in the world!