Presepe di Bariola: a life size nativity in Northern Italy

It’s Christmas time! Are you curious about how the nativities originated and to see an example of life size nativity in rural Italy? Read the article!

Presepe di Contrada Bariola

When talking about Christmas decorations used in Italy, one almost automatically thinks about the beautiful nativities adorning churches and homes. Even if the Christmas tree is very common, I feel like the nativity is the most “traditional” installation related to this festivity.

According to some texts, the custom of setting up such representation was introduced by St. Francis of Assisi who  realized it for the first time in 1223 in the Umbrian town of Greccio. Apparently he had just visited the Holy Land and he was so impressed that he wanted to celebrate the Nativity in that specific Umbrian town that he considered very similar to Bethlehem, Jesus’ natal city. Since then this lovely tradition has spread and reached every corner of the country.

Over the course of the centuries we have also developed different versions of the Nativity, from the ones with “human” actors to those characterized by electrical implants able to replicate the alternation between day and night in the background.

Today I will focus on a specific and peculiar version of the nativity made of life size moving characters.

As you’ve probably already seen if you follow me in here and on the social media, I’m quite fond of the “Germanic” rural villages located at the foothills of the Vicentine mountains. As I promised in this article where I talked about these prealpine realities, these villages called “contradas” are at risk of depopulation (some of them are already abandoned) and my intention was to make more people aware of their existence by writing about the ones with a “touristic vocation”.

Today this is exactly what I am going to do with Contrada Bariola in Sant’Antonio di Valli del Pasubio, which is famous in its neighbourhood for its “magico presepe” (magical nativity).

Contrada Bariola

Contrada Bariola is a small rural village located just below Mount Pasubio in an area that during the First World War was just behind the frontline. At the time said area was consequently evacuated and since then it suffered a constant decline in population, caused also by its remote location and the lack of work opportunities.

Windows, Contrada Bariola

Rural stuff, Presepe di Bariola

Bariola’s inhabitants have decided to do something in order to bring “new life” to this contrada by opening a small B&B and organizing events like a summer festival and one of the most peculiar Christmas attractions around: Il Presepe di Contrada Bariola.


The characteristics that make Presepe di Bariola different from the others are mainly two:


Since the contrada is interested by depopulation and many buildings are abandoned, the inhabitants have decided to take advantage of the many empty houses and rural facilities by making them the stages where the presepe’s characters can move. The result is that the nativity is almost a living entity implemented in the urban fabric of the contrada.

Hanging laundry, Presepe di Bariola

A character of the nativity hanging the laundry outside an empty building. On the right you can see inhabited houses.


A fascinating aspect is given by the fact that characters are literally the inhabitants. Their faces are in fact casts of the local people and I can personally testify that, by looking at them, you can recognize the somatic traits typical of the villagers of these mountains!

Man with chicken, Presepe di Bariola

Grandfather, Presepe di Bariola

As you probably have already noticed if you have seen the famous shops of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, Nativity’s characters are not always “the classic ones” (aka the Holy Family, the three kings etc.), but, with time, people and personalities of our era has been progressively integrated to make this Christian scene closer to the people.

In Contrada Bariola the classic scene of the Nativity is surrounded by common characters engrossed in the activities typical of the past decades in this prealpine area, and by those going on with their everyday life.

Nativity, Presepe di Bariola

The Nativity

Public fountain, Presepe di Bariola

People used to go fetch the water to the fountain when there wasn’t running water inside the houses.

Climbing stairs, Presepe di Bariola

Woman climbing the stairs to reach the hayloft.

Mountaineer, Presepe di Bariola

A mountaineer staring dreamily at the Small Dolomites.

Drunkard, Presepe di Bariola

The perfect representation of the Veneto’s stereotype: a man who works hard and a drunkard.

There are also some characters that remind of the history of this area.

Soldiers, Presepe di Bariola

Soldiers of the First World War with the flags of the Reign of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The frontline was just few feet away from here.

Many characters move and some of them even tell about the history of the contrada in the local dialect.

Animazioni Contrada Bariola

Click to go to Flickr and see some characters in action!

The work behind the scenes of this Presepe is impressive and what’s incredible is that there’s no Tourism Department or Public Organization involved. This is entirely the work of volunteers and inhabitants that want visitors to enjoy their craftsmanship and understand what living in a contrada meant in the past decades.

The entrance is free, but, if you want, you can contribute with a small offer that will be used to fund the local kindergarten.

We often say it in Italy: if it were not for the volunteers, this country would not exist. Kudos, people of Contrada Bariola!


Presepe di Bariola website:

Opening dates and hours: 24th Dec. 2017 – 31st Jan. 2018. H. 8,30 am – 10,30 pm (on the 24th Dec. it will open at 9 pm)

How to reach Sant’Antonio: Bus Line Extraurbana 13 from Vicenza; grid ref. 45.7566, 11.2177

What to see nearby:  Forte Maso, Museo della Prima Armata, Pasubio Moutain and the Strada delle 52 Gallerie, Valli del Pasubio, Recoaro Terme, Montagna Spaccata.



8 thoughts on “Presepe di Bariola: a life size nativity in Northern Italy

  1. That’s such a real life experience… I initially thought it was a wax museum! I love how your understanding of your country is so thorough (I feel very bad, I never travel within Australia…)
    Merry Christmas Sara, hope you have an awesome time, plenty of good food and drinks and hope you have some great company as well! 😉🌲🥂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Romance in Italy: Montagna Spaccata and the Legend of a Doomed Love – My Dear Italia

  3. Pingback: Modern Ruins: Recoaro Terme and the phantom of a 1800s spa-town in Italy – My Dear Italia

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