There’s an ancient street in the historic centre of Naples where Christmas preparations never stop. Via San Gregorio Armeno, also known as ‘Christmas alley’, is famous for the sculpted nativity scenes (i presepi) which its artisan workshops produce and which are popular across Italy and beyond.
I’m there on a sunny day one April on a fascinating Vespa tour of the Mediterranean city with archaeologist Emiliano Tufano. We walk along the narrow, cobblestoned street into Ferigno, one of the open workshops where craftsmen are making i pastori. Pastori literally means ‘shepherds’ but is the generic term used for all of the crib scene figures.
I watch an artist sculpting a sheep carried by a shepherd. He’s using a dummy of a shepherd to ensure the sheep will fit across a shepherd’s shoulder. He tells me that it takes two hours to make a figure like a sheep and about twenty hours to make a larger figure such as a shepherd or king. Like all of the nativity scene figures here the sheep will be painted to look as realistic as possible. A Ferigno nativity scene costs from around 500 euros.
My guide Emiliano explains that the nativity scenes are not limited to traditional figures but can also include famous celebrities as well as il corno (the horn), the symbol of Naples and a good luck charm against the evil eye:
One of the earliest examples of Christmas crib scenes dates from the thirteenth century and the tradition is thought to be much older although nobody’s sure exactly when it started. The Certosa di San Martino museum in Naples has a section devoted to the nativity scene. I didn’t make it there but would love to go back to Naples to see it.
Family travel lowdown: Vesparound offers guided Vespa tours of Naples and the surrounding area. I travelled to Naples with my daughter as guests of The Adventure Company on their 8-day ‘Around the Bay of Naples’ family trip for the purposes of a newspaper travel feature.