Caltagirone is a small town in the Sicilian Province of Catania known for its pottery but also the ability of its craftsmen in the patient construction of Nativity scenes,which are built using traditional materials with a touch of modern creativity.
Did you know that Italians use pasta also to build the ‘presepe’ (Nativity scene)?
What are Nativity scenes made of?
A typical Sicilian presepe is often built with humble materials such as wood and terracotta. Characters are usually hand-painted and dressed in peasant bespoke clothes made of the most diverse fabrics. The style is studied and reproduced in detail, trying to capture the scene as close as possible to the Biblical events. Realism is sought and often successfully found! Every character often represents a specific craft and the typical movements and gestures of his/her trade are reproduced by means of an electrical device placed inside the character’s silhouette.
You can expect everything from the artists of Caltagirone. Even from a simple piece of cotton they are able to shape a cave and create a Madonna. Pasta also becomes a useful material for a Nativity scene in Sicily! Some ‘presepi’ are as big as a man, others so small that they fit on the palm of your hand. What makes each Nativity unique is not the size but rather the story they tell the visitor, leaving the memory of a piece of history rebuilt and handed down from generation to generation.
A visit in the dark
During the Christmas season (from December to early January), from the main streets of Caltagirone you can enter various rooms, located in the ground floor of historical buildings, that contain the treasure of the Nativity scene, if you book a tour a local guide will drive you around. These interior spaces are separated from the road with a thick curtain that leads to a dark space in which one or more ‘presepi’ are exhibited to the public and the atmosphere makes the visit a discovery. The darkness hides the world you live in changing it into a different reality.
The miniature world is a careful reconstruction of a Christian event, but it is not only a religious and spiritual moment. It is above all thought as an artistic performance staged every year by zealous artisans. In Caltagirone, tradition is not a dogma but something to learn from, so as to reinvent a new way of thinking about religion and Christmas.
Nativity scenes are sold in the main square of the city where a small market offers a wide range of souvenirs and last-minute Christmas gifts!
How to get to Caltagirone
It is easy to reach Caltagirone by train or a bus from the Catania city centre. Less than two hours of travel time and this UNESCO heritage site opens its doors to those who love to discover local history and Sicilian traditions.
Walking the small streets of the city, you can meet elderly that stop in the ‘piazza’ to enjoy a coffee and a chat on a bench in the sun. Baroque churches meet with the balconies of houses and it is easy to smell in the air the scent of just hung clothes, remembering that everything in Sicily is a contrast between public and private, outside and inside.
Sometimes two houses on opposite sides of the road merge ideally in that shared space in which the laundry has been hung up and the road suddenly becomes a theatre with an unusual curtain made of T-shirts, pants, and sheets flapping in the wind.
Do not forget to taste the typical Christmas sweets of Caltagirone: collorelle.
Made of almonds, mulled wine, and honey, ‘collorelle’ is a delicious white ring-shaped sweet to be tasted at any time of day. It takes hours to prepare the lush filling and wrap it with a thin layer of melted lard, flour and water, yet only a few minutes to taste it, allowing you to experience a breathtaking work of art!
A different Christmas
If you want to spend your Christmas time away from abundant lunches and dinners at home, pack everything and enjoy art, culture, relaxation, and good food on the warm island of Sicily!
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