Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Precepe Tour

The Christmas Special:  The Precepe, or nativity scenes, are a Neapolitan tradition that make Christmas particularly special in this city.  In keeping with the spirit, I would like to suggest a Saturday walking tour of the most spectacular precepe.  Children will particularly love these places and adults will be able to see some of the top sights of Naples, with a Christmas bent.

1)  Start at the Villa Comunale in the Chiaia district where you'll easily find parking and enjoy a view of the Bay of Naples and the Castel dell'Ovo.  The Villa Comunale is a large park with play sets for kids.  A few blocks up the road from here, enter the Santa Maria in Portico Church.  Go to the sacristy where you'll find a life-size precepe created in the 17th-century.  (Address:  Via Santa Maria in Portico 17)

2)  Take the funicular at Parco Margherita up to the Vomero district and then walk up the hill to the  Certosa di San Martino.  The vast number of precepe in this museum are considered the finest in the world, including a figurine created by Guiseppe Sanmartino, the sculptor of the Veiled Christ

3)  Walk down the hill to the Vanvitelli metro station and take the subway to Piazza Dante.  You can also take the stairs across the street from the Certosa that wind down into Naples.  The stairs provide wonderful overlooks of the city as well as quick access to the city center.  However, I've been warned several times that the area is dangerous (even during the day) with mafia, pickpockets, and a descent into some of the seediest places in Spaccanapoli.

Once you get to Piazza Dante, walk down Via Monteoliveto until you come to Piazza Monteoliveto.  Take a right into the piazza and you'll find the Sant'Anna dei Lombardi Church.  Go into the caverns of the sacristy to find Guido Mazzoni's Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1492), with seven life-size terracotta figures surrounding Christ.  Beyond it, you'll also find Vasari's sacristy with wood marquetry and a stunning ceiling fresco.  In a room between these two amazing works, you'll find a sprawling precepe scene.

Mazzoni's Lamentation of Christ

Precepe Scene

Vasari Sacristy

4)  Go up to Piazza Del Gesu Nuovo and walk down Via Benedetto Croce.  This is one of the two main arteries of downtown Naples with a wealth of things to see.  Walk along this road and take a left onto Via San Gregorio Armeno, also known as Christmas Alley.  (I would highly recommend stopping first in a side street of Via San Severo to visit the Veiled Christ.)  If you're at Christmas Alley on a Tuesday morning, you'll also be able to see the miracle of Saint Patricia's blood liquifying.

At Christmas Alley you can buy vintage Neapolitan delights such as pulcinella, the Neapolitan Flip-Over coffee maker, and precepe figurines.  But be aware that you won't be able to take precepe through customs, so the precepe you buy in Naples will likely stay in Naples.

5)  If you're not tired out by then, walk to Via Duomo, take a left, then take another left on Via Anticaglia.  This street is one of the oldest of the city, dating back to Greco-Roman times.  Along here, smaller shops tout elaborate handmade precepe also. 

On another day, you can also visit the Reggia di Caserta and look for a massive precepe behind glass.

Precepe figurines at the Reggia di Caserta

These are my top six picks of where to find precepe around Naples, but they can be found almost everywhere.  What's more, Neapolitans are so proud of this distinct artistic heritage that precepe can be viewed during all months of the year.  If you happen to be visiting the city in June, you can also take a precepe tour. 

For other ideas of what to see and what to eat during Christmas in Naples, check out my Table of Contents -- Holidays in Naples.

Buon Natale a tutti!


Gil said...

Beautiful! This brought back good memories of our trip. I just love that area of Naples.

Barbara said...

Thanks, Gil! Happy Holidays to you!

LindyLouMac said...

I have always wanted to learn more about the famous Naples Precepe as seen lots of Precepe but not in Naples itself, so thanks for this informative post.
Why are you unable to take the figurines through customs?

Barbara said...

Hi Lindy Lou! The precepe are made from organic materials (such as grass) so customs officers won't allow them through.


Anonymous said...

I have purchased precepe twice in Naples and taken them back to the states both times. I have never had any issue with them. Perhaps if you purchase one that is more obviously organic?

Barbara said...

Fantastic! I never tried to send a precepe before, I was only told many times that it's forbidden and we expats have complied. If you have been a tourist and have brought precepe items back then -- HEAR THAT, Everyone? You CAN bring them back!

Thanks for the info!

LindyLouMac said...

I have never seen organic ones before, unless wood counts as organic which I suppose it does :)