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Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Rome's most beautiful Christmas cribs and Nativity scenes

A short guide to Christmas cribs and Nativity scenes to visit in Rome over the festive season.

100 Presepi

The 2023 edition of 100 Presepi, Rome's international nativity crib exhibition, takes place under the colonnade in St Peter's Square from 9 December until 7 January. The annual exhibition hosts more than 100 Nativity scenes from Italy and other countries around the world. In addition to contemporary reproductions of traditional 18th-century Neapolitan and Sicilian cribs, and 19th-century Roman mangers, there are modern versions made from wood, papier-mâché and terracotta, as well as unconventional materials such as sand, rice and metal.


Vatican Nativity scene

Vatican Christmas crib 2023. Photo Wanted in Rome.

This Christmas in St Peter's Square, the Vatican evokes the first living Nativity scene of St Francis on the 800th anniversary of its creation in Greccio north of Rome in 1223. In addition to the Holy Family, the manger features life-sized terracotta statues depicting St Francis and some of the people who helped him recreate the first live Nativity scene.

The crib scene, which comes from the Italian diocese of Rieti and is set up beside the Vatican's Christmas tree, can be admired until 7 January 2024.


SS. Cosma e Damiano

One of Rome's most magical Nativity scenes to visit at Christmas (and all year round) is at the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano beside the Roman Forum.

This monumental Neapolitan Nativity scene features a vast number of wooden and ceramic figures including shepherds, artisans and street vendors.


Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore


The oldest sculptural nativity in the world can be found at the Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore near the central Termini station. Artist Arnolfo di Cambio was commissioned by Pope Niccolò V to create the marble figurines between 1290 and 1291. The Franciscan pope was inspired by St Francis of Assisi, creator of the first living nativity, in Greccio, in 1223.


Piazza di Spagna

Photo Sovrintendenza Capitolina Roma

Rome has set up a large Nativity scene in Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps, the work of artist Angelo Urbani del Fabbretto with the collaboration of Vincenzo Confidati. Inaugurated in 1965, the crib scene reproduces a corner of Rome animated by characters dressed in 19th-century attire. Pasquino the talking statue also makes an appearance.


S. Maria in Via

A traditional-style crib can be found each year in the church of S. Maria in Via off Largo Chigi, in the city centre, which for the last six decades has housed the work of Italian members of the global crib-building association Amici del Presepio.


Street cleaners' crib

A more unusual manger scene can be found near St Peter’s on Via dei Cavalleggeri 5. The street cleaner’s crib, owned and cared for by Rome’s rubbish collection company AMA, has a floor containing over 1,400 different stones brought by pilgrims from all over the world. Founded 50 years ago, the presepe dei netturbini can be visited for free by appointment.


Cover image: The Vatican's 2016 Nativity Scene in St Peter's Square. Photo credit: Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com.

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