In the Sassi di Matera, each year, 1000 local “actors” help us imagine what Bethlehem might have looked like at the time of the birth of Christ. The Presepe Vivente, or live nativity scene, is one unique experience that lasts only 4 evenings per year, and we were very fortunate to attend.

An entire itinerary through the Sassi – the historic rock dwellings in the area of Sasso Caveoso – have been animated by locals in evocative costumes. Modern signage has been covered up with burlap and intrusions kept to a minimum, making this an incredible photo op. Rather than still-lives, the nativity is interpreted as a historic village, with traditional craftsmen and food preparation, and women doing needlework. Some passersby in costume mingle in the crowd, carrying baby bundles. Men and women of all ages participate.

There is little to say that photos cannot express better (I took over a hundred, and narrowed it down to 23 for you). We went at 4pm – it will be even more beautiful at night, but then the photos would require flash, of which I am not a fan.

How to see the presepe vivente: The 2013 edition rans from December 27 to 29, for just three evenings, from 4pm to 9:30pm.

Tickets can be reserved in advance for scheduled entrance times at However, individuals and families are only allowed to advance book slots from 6:30pm onwards. Rather, we tested our luck and managed to buy tickets for the 4pm entry just half an hour before. Tickets are on sale in a booth near the entry to nativity scenes.

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