San Gregorio Armeno Market and the nativity scenes museum at La certosa di San Martino
Discover the liveliest Christmas market in central-south Italy, and one of the finest Italian Nativity Scenes museums.
Setting up a nativity scene—Presepe in Italian —is a strong tradition in Naples, started as early as the 11th century. Still today, the Presepe is a Must for every true Neapolitan, and the unmissable place to buy your Presepe is the San Gregorio Armeno market.
After discovering the popular side of Presepe, you will surely want to know more about this wonderful tradition, and the awesome Museo di San Martino is the place you are looking for (click on the map to access Google Maps).
All year round, the ancient cobble stoned alleys of San Gregorio Armeno and San Biagio dei Librai are crammed full of stalls selling nativity scene statuettes , making it an unmissable destination for the savvy travellers who are not afraid to explore Naples awesome Historical District.
But it is at Christmas time that San Gregorio Armeno is best experienced. You will discover a kaleidoscope to delight the senses, merchants shops spill out into the street, the side alleys, the palazzi, selling everything you need to create your own Neapolitan Christmas Nativity.
Today, Neapolitan artisans make the best nativity scene statuettes in Italy. Statuettes range from classic nativity characters—the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men—to figures of the Neapolitan tradition—the fisherman, the wine maker, Pulcinella—and even politicians and international stars, including current Prime Minister, rock stars and, of course, Pope Francesco!
While wandering in San Gregorio Armeno district, pay attention to the amazing Ospedale delle Bambole (“doll’s hospital”), in Via San Biagio dei Librai, 81, a centuries old, unique boutique specialized in restoration of antique dolls and sacred statues.
I personally find this area one of the most fascinating places in Italy, and its just incredible that it’s still neglected by the hundreds of thousand tourists that flow every day to more renowned destinations such as Pompei and the Amalfi coast. Apart from the artistic jewels that dot the area (look out for my next post!) , you will be amazed by each single detail of your walk. Let me share some:
Ancient votive lamp. Note the sinners in the flames…
After you’re done with San Gregorio Armeno, just take the new underground to the Certosa di San Martino and its awesome museum, , which hosts Naples’ largest collection of nativity scenes and statuettes, from the colossal Cuciniello to the elegant Giustiniani and a precious silver and coral one.
Actually, the Certosa definetely deserves a visit, apart from the nativity scenes: it’s a gorgeous ancient Monastery, overlooking Naples, with fantastic views over Naples golf and its volcano, the Vesuvio.
And here are some of the amazing ancient nativity scenes displayed in the museum:
The most interesting Nativity scene is in my opinion the San Giovanni in carbonara group. Coming from the church of San Giovanni in Carbonara, it represents one of the main masterpieces of Neapolitan art of Presepe. It was commissiones in 1478 by Jacomello Pipe, a vendor of spices in Duke of Calabria services. It was originally made of 41 different figures, of which only 14 survive today.
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