A living nativity scene is an important representation of the Holy Bible, lived with a devout religious sentiment in all the Catholic countries of the world. In Italy, a greater religious fervour for Christmas can be found in the southern regions, particularly in Sicily, where for centuries the ancient tradition of the living nativity scene has been handed down from the old generations to the new ones and it is still alive today.
In addition to the religious and representative value, this event is also an opportunity to rediscover ancient crafts that have now disappeared. On this occasion, these crafts come back to life for a limited period of time, thanks to the knowledge jealously guarded by the elderly and to associations which are interested in honouring this legacy and make it a heritage for future generations.
During Christmas time, it is also possible to taste the typical dishes of the local tradition and visit places of religious sanctity, often located in natural places of indescribable beauty, where scenes of the nativity are represented.
The Living Nativity of Ispica, a small town of 15,000 inhabitants in the province of Ragusa and located in the extreme south-east of Sicily, offers tourists a rare opportunity to go back in time, discovering natural places of archaic beauty and rich in history, tasting typical food with unique flavors and living a fervent religious dimension.
Defined as the most beautiful and most visited nativity scens of the island, the event boasts a presence of over 70,000 people in the last three editions. It is set in the charming Cava d’Ispica, a large natural canyon where once an imposing stream of water flowed and one of the most important natural and historical landscapes in Sicily. The nativity scene is set up in real natural caves of soft calcareous rock, which house prehistoric necropolises, Christian catacombs, rupestrian oratories, monastic hermitages and inhabited nuclei of various typologies that have followed one another uninterruptedly from Prehistory (Ancient Bronze Age) until at least the fourteenth century.
In the lower part of the valley, near the city, the site is called “Parco Forza“. In a film set location, the representation of the Nativity, the adoration of the shepherds and the arrival of the Magi come back to life in the lives of farmers and Iblei shepherds, who devote themselves to pastoral farming and the production of hot ricotta cheese. There is no shortage of old jobs such as the baker, the knife grinder, the cooper, the carpenter, the carter, the farrier, the ropemaker, the tailor, the embroiderer, the harvester, the broom maker, the potters and the stonemason. In addition to having a purely demonstrative trait for tourists, the innumerable activities of the living nativity scene pay homage and memory to an ancient and still alive bucolic-pastoral tradition.
This year for its 20th edition, the Living Nativity Scene of Ispica will take place from 17th December 2017 to 6th January 2018, from 4.30 to 8.30 pm in the old town centre of Ispica (formerly called Spaccaforno) near the Cava. Reachable by a shuttle bus from the modern town centre, it is located at the top of the hill where the city was rebuilt after the violent earthquake of 1693. Considered as one of the most anticipated Christmas events in Sicily, the living nativity scene is unique in its kind, enhanced by the natural scenery that lends itself well to the representation and recalls very much the places of Palestine.
If you love wild places surrounded by nature and rich in history, if you love trying the traditional cuisine of new places and want to rediscover the old crafts and the ancient religious Christmas traditions, you can’t miss a visit to this corner of earth, where you are always a welcome guest, where food is genuine and skilfully prepared and where time seems to have stopped a thousand years ago.
Copyright photos: www.novetv.com; www.alloversicily.it; wikipedia.com; www.siciliainfesta.com
Article written by: A. Gianna