Living or traditional, Neapolitan or standard, with orange branches or terracotta figurines, cribs are everywhere in Italy during Christmas time! Here is a little guide to the best nativities in Rome and surroundings.
We stress the word ‘surroundings’ because the nativity scene was for the first time invented and recreated in a village not far from Rome, Greccio, where St. Francis in 1223 set up the manger where Jesus was born with real people, the so called living nativity. The living crib is still a tradition in Greccio (on show on Dec. 24, 26, Jan. 2, 5, 6, 8), but this village now also boasts of a newly-inaugurated museum totally devoted to nativities from all over the world which is really worth visiting. Living nativities around Rome will also be on display in Tolfa, Corchiano and Lanuvio. In Leonessa, you’ll find a still one, all made of terracotta.
Going back to ancient cribs, Rome’s oldest is displayed in Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome’s four Basilicas, and it was realized by the 13th-century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. If you wan to see a Neapolitan style one (which consists of 3 parts: the grotto central scene, the magi procession and the tavern) in downtown Rome, you should go Santi Cosma e Damiano, with its 18-th century pastors or to S. Gregorio VII, pretty close to the Vatican. If you love the Neapolitan style cribs so much to drive out of Rome then head for Monteporzio Catone – crib displayed in an old cistern – or Amatrice (where the amatriciana pasta sauce comes from).
Rome’s churches with the best nativities are, of course, St. Peter’s with the Vatican’s official crib but also other smaller churches such as Chiesa del Cuore Immacolato in Euclide square, with 52 scenes of Jesus life and 18 of Palestine set on the steps leading to the church’s entrance. Or Chiesa della Santissima Concezione, in the central Via Veneto, with a nativity made of coloured chalk and decorated with mirrors. In the very central Chiesa di Santa Maria, looking at the crib you’ll be able to see the reproduction of disappeared corners of old Rome.
An institution of Rome’s Christmas scene is the exposition 100 presepi, in Via D’Annunzio, next to piazza del Popolo, displaying around 200 nativites from all over the world made with all kinds of different materials. There is also a workshop for kids (age: 4 to 11) who want to learn to make a crib (reservation required).
A permanent and historical nativity is hosted by Rome’s waste disposal company AMA at 5, Via dei Cavalleggeri, with stones and concrete from all over the world to recreate original Palestine houses of the time. Rome’s Crib museum, near the Fori, is also open all year-long. While a 19th-century nativity is always on display in Trastevere’s Rome Museum.