Living the Spirit of Christmas All Over the Year in Naples

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Presepe



From the feast of the Immaculate Conception to the Epiphany, in Italy every house, every place, and every church has its own Nativity scene. To be honest, when I was a child my first love was the Christmas tree, with its dazzling lights and ornaments, but what really makes the Christmas holidays unique is Presepe. Since I have grown I’ve come to appreciate this. Whether you are religious or not, Presepe makes you feel the deep sense of Christmas.

The word itself, presepe, comes from the Latin “praesepe” and means “manger”, this is in reference to Jesus’cradle. Presepe is a focus on the birth of Jesus. Not the lights and glitter of the holiday, but a theatrical construction that reminds us of what we are celebrating. The first Presepe was created by San Francis in 1223, but it became a must-have during the year 1400 in the kingdom of Naples. In each house of the aristocracy, it was displayed as a huge lavish scene with no expense spared.

The Nativity Street in Naples and Its History

The Presepe became a more popular tradition in time and it has wide spread from the North to the South. The home of Italian Presepe is undoubtedly Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, where it’s Christmas throughout the year. Here handicraftsmen work every day to create miniature figures, houses, and mechanical items, such as waterfalls, windmills, bakers, or cheesemakers at work.

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This street is one of the oldest in Naples, it has existed since the Classical era. During the Roman Empire, a temple to Ceres once stood here. Ceres was the goddess of agriculture and was frequently offered small terracotta figurines as a good omen for the harvest season. These figurines had been manufactured in the nearby workshop. In the 8th century, a church was built over the ruins of the temple by a group of nuns escaping from the Byzantine Empire. These nuns brought with them the relics of Saint Gregory the Armenian, because of this both the Church and the street took the name of the Saint. When the tradition of Presepe spread in Naples, artisans chose this street to showcase their creations, this wove together the pagan tradition of Ceres and the devotion to Saint Gregory.

When is the Best Time to Visit the Neapolitan Christmas Market?

Despite the fact that December is the best time to visit Christmas markets around the world, take my advice: consider visiting via San Gregorio Armeno at another time. The street of Nativity is a narrow and picturesque alley throughout the year but during the Days of Advent it is extremely congested. People are crammed together like sardines and it’s difficult to walk.

If you are planning to come in Naples to get all the materials you need to build your own Presepe or if you are simply curious, any other period of the year will offer you a more fulfilling experience. Far away from the busy or crowded days, you will have the opportunity to visit inside the craft workshops and to observe the Neapolitan artisans creating their miniature masterpieces. In addition, you will be free to walk slowly along the alley, appreciate, in your own time, all the fine details, and, of course, choose the best pieces for your Presepe.

Not Only a Christmas Market!

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Thanks to its rich history, this street has much to offer. As you can imagine, the Saint Gregory church and its cloister are worth visiting. The alley itself is dominated by the bell tower. It serves as a connection between the church and the monastery. In addition, just up the alley, inside the Church of San Lorenzo there is an interesting archeological site. A modern glass stairway leads to a part of the Greco-Roman Neapolis. A large archeological excavation that has brought to light the “macellum”, the ancient remains of the market. Just around the corner, in Via dei Tribunali, there is the entrance to the Napoli sotterranea (Naples underground) that gives you the opportunity to experience a fascinating journey forty meters below the street among the tuffaceous stone cavities excavated in the Greek era and exploited as cisterns for the water supply of the city for approximately 23 centuries. If you are also interested in food culture, you can’t miss having a traditional pizza. In Via dei Tribunali there are many of the most popular Pizzerie in Naples: Sorbillo, Decumani, Dal Presidente. Take your pick. Wherever you go, it will be the best pizza you have ever eaten. 

Suspended Coffe, Empathetic Coffee.

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Do you know what “un caffè sospeso” is? The idea was born in Naples. It is thus basically a way to anonymously offer a coffee to someone who cannot afford to pay for their own. When you go inside a cafè, you can pay a coffe for you and a suspended coffee for a needy stranger. Thanks to social networks, a lot of cafès around the world have signed up to the goodwill initiative. 

In this video, Denise Lawson explains why she wanted to introduce this custom in her library in UK.

 The interview is in Italian but you can download the transcript here.


Discover Italy by listening to Luoghi d'Arte (Places of Art), a magazine broadcasted by Radio 24. Once a week, Marco Carminati leads us to explore italian artistic heritage. Podcasts are available here. I provide you the transcription, a comprehension worksheet and a words focus. In this episod, he is in Naples. Let’s listen!


Un cordiale saluto da Marco Carminati, mi trovo nella bella Napoli. Mi trovo qui perché voglio proporvi un giro per le Regge di questa città, il centro e i suoi dintorni ha un condensato di palazzi reali come raramente si trovano in Europa. E allora oggi cominciamo dal cuore della città: il Palazzo Reale, che si trova proprio nel centro storico della città tra l’altro a ridosso del mare. E questo palazzo venne costruito dagli Spagnoli, sostanzialmente, quando all’inizio del ‘500 la Spagna, passando sopra la dinastia degli Aragonesi prese possesso del Vicereame. E qui venne mandato un Viceré. Fu costruito un piccolo palazzo dedicato al Viceré, poi a un certo punto arrivò un’occasione straordinaria. Si diffuse la voce che Re Filippo III di Spagna sarebbe venuto a fare una grande visita a Napoli. Quindi bisognava preparare in fretta e furia un palazzo per ospitarlo. Ecco che viene costruito questo grande edificio. Si chiama un architetto molto importante, allora era Domenico Fontana, un architetto importantissimo che era caduto in disgrazia presso il Papa quindi era venuto a lavorare a Napoli. Questo realizza un palazzo colossale e per ironia della sorte il Re a un certo punto decide di non fare la visita a Napoli. Quindi ci si trova questo colossale edificio ma il Re destinatario non lo abiterà mai. Nei secoli il Palazzo viene abbellito e ingrandito. Noi oggi lo visitiamo perché è diventato un museo. Qui, si sono succedute le dinastie prima dei Viceré poi quando sono arrivati i Borboni con Carlo III, la famiglia dei Borboni fece proprio allestire gli appartamenti che ancora oggi noi possiamo visitare tra l’altro con dei luoghi stupefacenti come il cosiddetto Teatrino che in realtà è gigantesco all’interno del Palazzo, un’intera Chiesa che è stata costruita dentro del Palazzo per le cerimonie della Corte, la cosiddetta Cappella Palatina con tutti gli appartamenti ovviamente. Uno dei luoghi più incantati è lo Scalone che naturalmente lascia tutti a bocca aperta perché le dimensioni sono colossali. È stata una delle ultime cose aggiunte, fu rifatto nell’800 quando purtroppo un incendio fece bruciare una parte del Palazzo e il vicino Teatro di San Carlo che appunto venne ricostruito nell’800 e fa insieme al Palazzo uno dei complessi più belli d’Italia.



1 - La puntata fornisce informazioni in merito a:

a)    Il Palazzo reale di Napoli

b)    Il Teatro San Carlo a Napoli

c)    La Reggia di Caserta

2- La prima parte del Palazzo venne costruita:

a)    Per ospitare Re Filippo III di Spagna in visita a Napoli

b)    Nel ‘400

c)    Come abitazione del viceré

3- Il Palazzo oggi è diventato:

a)    Un museo

b)    Un Teatrino

c)    Una serie di appartamenti privati

4- Una parte del Palazzo è stata distrutta nell’800 da:

a)    Un terremoto che rase al suolo la città

b)    Un incendio che distrusse anche il vicino Teatro

c)    A seguito di una rivolta popolare



CONDENSATO: Usually Italians use this wordwith a sligtly different meaning. It can mean condensate (for example condensed milk or condensed tomato are “condensati”) or summary (i.e. il condensato di un romanzo - a novel’s summary) or, as in this text, it can refer to the abundance of something (i.e. quel film è un condensato di volgarità - that movie is an epitome of vulgarity, Napoli ha un condensato di Palazzi reali nei suoi territori – Naples has a lot ofRoyal Palace in its territory)

CUORE DELLA CITTÀ: The heart of the City

SI DIFFUSE LA VOCE: Spreadthe voice



ERA CADUTO IN DISGRAZIA: He fell from grace

LASCIA TUTTI A BOCCA APERTA: The “Scalone” (the grand staircase) leave everybody open mouth


ANSWER KEY (1A – 2C – 3A - 4B)