Every Christmas, 15.000 lights give life to a striking Nativity Scene in Manarola, a village in Liguria’s Cinque Terre. This presepe, which entered the Guinness World Record in 2007 as the world’s largest nativity scene, is created by retired railroad worker Mario Andreoli.
The nativity scene started with just one cross in 1961, when Mario’s father asked him to re-create an ancient pilgrim’s cross that used to stand in the middle of the family vineyard in the past. Slowly, Christmas after Christmas, Mario enriched his creation with new figures and characters. Today, the nativity scene has more than 250 characters scattered all over a terraced hill overlooking Manarola.
If this is not unique enough, this delightful work of art is also eco-friendly! In fact, it is built exclusively with recycled materials and powered by a photovoltaic system in the spirit of sustainability of the Cinque Terre National Park, where Manarola is located.
The Nativity Scene traditionally lights up around or on the 8th of December, in occasion of the Festa dell’Immacolata, an Italian public holiday that commemorates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Many Italian families put up their Christmas tree and Nativity Scenes at home on this day.
Should you be in the area on 8 December 2015, do not miss the lighting at around 16:45, when Mario himself will officially light up the Nativity Scene from the piazza of Chiesa di San Lorenzo. Here, you can also enjoy a choir concert and a Living Créche with period costumes. Following these shows, you can join a candlelight procession up to the terraced hill and its precious installation. The lights will be on until mid-January.
About Manarola: history & sights
The town’s origins date back to the year 1100, when descendants of the ex-Roman colony of Volastra chose the promontory as an ideal lookout against the incursions of pirates. Later on, the feudal village of Manarola passed under the ownership of the Lords of Carpena, the Bishop of Luni and the Fieschi Family, Lords of Genoa. This was the birthplace of Sinibaldo Fieschi, who later became Pope Innocent IV, the pope that excommunicated Frederick II and started the VII crusades.
Manarola is probably the most picturesque of the Cinque Terre thanks to its particularly bright and colorful tower houses crammed on a rocky spur. You can reach it by foot from Riomaggiore through one of the most spectacular seaside trails in the world, the Via dell’Amore (Pathway of Love). Otherwise, the easiest way to reach Manarola is by boat or by train.
The terraced hills embracing Manarola have vineyards that produce the local wine called Sciacchetrà. Hiking trails here provide amazing views and a unique experience between nature and the local livelihood.
Attractions include the Ligurian-gothic style Church of San Lorenzo, built in 1338. Its arch portal is decorated with a bas-relief depicting the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence. Inside the building, you will find a triptych representing the Madonna with Child (XV century); Saint Lawrence between the Saints Antonio Abate and Bernardino; and Saint Catherine of Alexandria (XIV century).
A one-hour walk along a stream will take you to the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute, located between Manarola and Corniglia. The Romanesque-style church was erected in 1240, and features three naves, a barrel vault, and a 14-th century ogive arch that allows the melodies of the religious functions to be heard outdoors.