Presepe, via Azzurra 10, Bologna. Ph. Antonio Salvatore

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The magic of Nativity scenes in Bologna

Posted on 03 December 2021 From Bologna Welcome

In Bologna, the art of nativity scenes is ancient and deeply-rooted, dating back to the thirteenth century; the sculptures, usually made of wood, terracotta and papier-mâché, are accurate and include clothing, unlike other traditions. In this magical period, statuettes, animals and scale reproductions of typical Bolognese activities come to life and contribute to livening up the most varied craft constructions.

Let's discover them all! 

Setting out from the historic centre, we shall start from the main courtyard of Palazzo d'Accursio with the wooden nativity scene inspired by Wolfango's works, before paying a visit to the Basilica of Santo Stefano, home to the oldest nativity scene in the world and the largest in Italy, and continuing on to the Adoration of the Magi and the Shepherds in the Church of San Procolo

Consider also having a look at the permanent collections of Bolognese nativity figurines preserved in their original conditions at the Davia Bargellini Museum, the Museum of the Blessed Virgin of San Luca and the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.

In the monumental loggia of the Church of San Giovanni in Monte (until 6 January 2022) you shouldn't be missing the nativity scene "L'abbraccio" (The Hug), or again, the exhibition "Presepi artistici e devozionali" (Artistic and devotional nativity scenes) at the Church of Gesù Buon Pastore (19-26 December; 1-2 January 2022; 9.30-12.30 and 14.30, 18.30; Christmas closed; weekdays: 14.30-18.30).


The Basilica of San Petronio displays a large monumental nativity scene with life-size figures by Luigi E. Mattei, while the Basilica of San Domenico houses the nativity scenes by Bartolomeo Cesi and Alfonso Lombardi. The monochrome terracotta of the Presepio della Mistica Maternità by Thea Farinelli ( open all year round, 8.30 am - 12 noon and 3 pm - 7 pm), is on display in the Corpus Domini Church, whereas the Churches of San Giacomo Maggiore, in Via Zamboni, and Santa Maria della Pioggia feature splendid wooden works in turn, to be admired together with several other masterpieces by Ludovico Carracci adorning the latter.  

Casa Saraceni will also be extraordinarily open to the public with the exhibition Statuettes: Historical cribs in the Bolognese tradition, now a well-established Christmas event held every year with an exhibition of shepherds crafted between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (22/12/21-09/01/22, Tue-Fri 3pm-6pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm).


A special event takes place every year near Via Massarenti, in Via Azzurra 10 to be precise: the Gran Presepe di Via Azzurra. Set up in the courtyard of a private home and visible only from the outside, with lights, music and animation, the crib is a source of inimitable joy for young and old alike. The nativity scene is on display from 1 December 2021 to 6 January 2022 after sunset, when the comet lights up. A new feature this year in the Murri district is the opening of the Crib in Via Parisio 50. The work of a passionate lady, who opens the doors of her private courtyard to welcome the curious and visitors, the scene is entirely handmade and available for viewing every day from 11am to 1pm and from 3pm to 6pm. 


Outside Bologna, the nativity tradition is likewise heartfelt and popular. In Monte San Pietro you can admire the nativity scenes at San Lorenzo in Collina, also accompanied by a professional guide, whilst  the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Porretta Terme, formerly known as the Friars' Church, displays a large traditional artistic nativity scene open from 8 December 2021 to 6 January 2022. In addition, in the Church of Capugnano, the oldest nativity scene in the diocese of Bologna has been preserved since 1560: it is one of the most important masterpieces of the church and the only existing pre-Baroque mobile nativity scene of this size. 

Still in the Apennines, do not miss the more than 100 nativity scenes in the town of Castel d'Aiano, set up along the streets of the town, telling of the extraordinary imagination of its inhabitants, or follow a true itinerary of nativity scenes at the Alpe di Monghidoro.


In the Imola area, from December 4, 2021, the towns are in celebration and the nativity scenes are lit up. Certainly worth a visit is the Crib in the Cathedral of Imola, curated entirely by volunteers, in Piazza Caduti per la Libertà. Not to be outdone Castel San Pietro Terme that between lights, sounds and precious workmanship offers more than ten cribs scattered around the city and surroundings!

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