When in Rome: Nativity scene tourism

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 flavour 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.

Nativity scenes from Naples are the most famous and even today its craftsman are renowned for carrying on this ancient tradition.

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

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.

Each 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.

A visit to see this historic nativity scene in Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano  is my European travel tip if your holiday travels take you through Rome. Be sure to also stop off at the Christmas market on Rome’s lovely Piazza Navona.

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