Reason #5361 to love Rome: Nativity scenes

Neapolitan nativity scene, Rome

Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!

Those of you visiting the Eternal City during the Christmas season will be certain to notice the Christmas trees that now grace the city. Christmas trees are a relatively recent import – a northern European tradition.

To get a real flavor of Italian Christmas traditions, visitors in should visit the many Roman churches that host a traditional presepio – a nativity scene.

The nativity scene is said to have originated in Italy. It is Saint Francis of Assisi who is credited with having constructed the first  nativity scene in a cave in the town of Greccio, outside Assisi, way back in 1223.

Basilica dei Santi Cosma e DamianoNativity scenes from Naples are the most famous and even today its craftsman are renowned for carrying on this ancient tradition.

My favorite among the many on offer in Rome’s churches during the holiday season is a Neapolitan nativity scene from 1700 on display at the Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano (Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian) in the Roman Forum.

The Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano  was built in the early 6th century AD and it is the oldest church in the Imperial Forum.  The church features original early Christian mosaics in the apse.

Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano nativity sceneEach year at during the Christmas season, tourists and Romans flock here to see the stunning details of Neapolitan craftsmen in this lovely nativity scene. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are surrounded by hundreds of figures and animals, all set amongst Roman ruins.

The details are marvellous and, even after numerous viewings, I find myself admiring scenes I hadn’t noticed on earlier visits.

Basilica dei Santi Cosma e DamianoA visit to see this historic nativity scene in Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano  is a must  if your holiday travels take you through Rome.

By the way, the Christmas season in Italy runs through the twelve days of Christmas. Churches will keep their nativity scenes on display through 6 January. So you still have plenty of time to enjoy them…


  1. Debra Kolkka on December 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I have been to Naples to see the amazing nativity scenes. We have a tradition of presepe in Bagni di Lucca as well. I hope I can be in Rome at the right time to see them there.

  2. kimberlysullivan on December 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I agree with you; the nativity scenes are amazing to see in Naples. And Tuscany is a pretty beautiful place during the holidays (and anytime), too. Enjoy your site! Happy New Year, Debra!

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