Naples Local Custom Tips by toonsarah Top 5 Page for this destination
Naples Local Customs: 52 reviews and 50 photos
Craftsman in the Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples
These nativity scenes, known as presepi, are a Neapolitan tradition dating back to the 13th century. Over the years it has become a real art form; in the 17th century nobles would commission renowned artists to create their very own nativity scene, as can be seen in the Santa Chiara cloister and in the Museo di San Martino. But there’s no need to go to a museum to see today’s presepi – simply head to the Via San Gregorio Armeno in the Centro Storico where numerous craftsmen who specialise in this tradition have their studios and shops. We were there in November when the street was packed with families choosing their decorations for the coming festivities, but I gather that the workshops are there all year round, though the atmosphere might be a little calmer.
What makes a presepe stand out from the regular nativity scene is its scale, and the way that the holy family is placed in a setting representing old Naples, with its architecture, its people and its traditions. The best and most complex pieces will hold your attention for ages. You may see herders leading cows to the pasture, a couple sharing a meal, children playing, maybe a fight in an inn, etc. In addition to these ordinary scenes, and the focal point always of the nativity itself, Neapolitans have for over 200 years included figures of people who made news during the year, such as a politician or celebrity – I read of Paverotti, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and Elvis all being “honoured” in this way, though I didn’t see any examples.
During the 19th century the presepe became a standard Christmas fixture for most homes, when poorer families created their own scenes with miniature chalk, terracotta and papier-maché figures. Today on the Via San Gregorio Armeno you can see not only the workshops where skilled craftsmen produce these scenes but everything you need to create your own at home: little rocks, bark and wood, streams with flowing water powered by tiny motors, balustrades and columns, and figures of all kinds.
Pulcinella, Centro Sorico, Naples
Pulcinella, often called Punch in English is a classical character that originated in the Commedia dell' Arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry. His name comes from his long beaked nose. His creation is sometimes attributed to an unknown Naples man in the early 1400's. Dressed a white hat, a white dress, and black shoes, and covering his face with a black mask, he would walk around Naples poking fun at the rich and the people in power. Life in Naples at his time wasn’t easy; the city suffered from economic and social depression and was often under the rule of many different kings. Because he helped people to forget about their problems, if only for a moment, Pulcinella became one of the most cherished symbols of Naples. Later he developed into the traditional crafty and rather vicious character we recognise as the English Punch, but the real Pulcinella is considered an archetype of humanity, with all its complex and contradictory features.
We saw several “Pulcinella” on the streets of the Centro Storico – this one was a street performer, another was working to attract visitors to a Christmas crib workshop in the Via San Gregorio Armeno, another busy luring people into a restaurant. I also spotted the masks for sale in several shops, in case you fancy acting out the role back home, as well as the more Venetian looking masks in my second photo.
A glass of limoncello
If like me you enjoy trying local delicacies and drinks when visiting places, you’ll want to sample a limoncello. This is a lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy, especially in this area around the Gulf of Naples and the coast of Amalfi and islands of Procida, Ischia and Capri, but also in Sicily and Sardinia. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol, water, and sugar. It is bright yellow in colour and I found it a little sweet for my taste – I expected sharpness but although it is lemony, it doesn’t have any lemon juice in it, only the rinds.
Limoncello is served chilled and is a refreshing after-dinner choice, especially if you like a little sweetness in your drinks. I was pleased to have the chance to try one, but after our first evening reverted to my favourite Italian digestivo, Grappa.
You can read more about it, and get some interesting recipes for using limoncello, at http://www.limoncello.com/en/index.html (focuses on the limoncello of Capri but interesting nevertheless, and it’s all the same drink really).
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