Il presepe napoletano, the Neapolitan presepe, is the scene of the birth of Jesus. There’s a great tradition in Naples regarding these nativity scenes. Especially in the eighteenth century in Naples, these presepes were a great way to show your wealth. The richer you were, the more handmade figures and miniature buildings you could buy. As a result of this tradition, the richest people in Naples often had huge nativity scenes with hundreds of figures in a whole miniature landscape that would be exposed during the whole year.
Of course, there aren’t hundreds of figures playing a role in the nativity story. You have Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, the shepherds, the magi, some animals and some angels. How could you have a nativity scene with hundreds of figures? This was because a whole village was built around the nativity scene, with many stores and all sorts of people. Characters you could often recognize are the gypsy woman, the fisherman, the two friends, the young virgin, the harlet and many different vendors selling products like meat, cheese, fruit and eggs.
If you wish to visit an old presepe, the most famous one is in the museo
nazionale di San Martino, the presepe Cuciniello. There’s also a few rooms dedicated to the art of the handmade presepe figures. I also found what was probably the smallest presepe ever, the size of an egg.
The presepe tradition isn’t just an old tradition from the eighteenth century. Nativity scenes with handmade figures are still very popular in Naples. There is a street in Naples, the Via San Gregorio Armeno, with many shops that still sell presepe figures. You could even buy a handmade presepe figure of the pope or of Michael Jackson and put them in your nativity scene.