Presepe vivente in Barga Vecchia – v 3.0

Presepe vivente in Barga Vecchia

The gradually evolving form of the event goes under the blanket description of “tradition” and is therefore a difficult animal to pin down but once again for the 40th time, the annual event in Barga took place in Barga this evening.

The Presepe Vivente is one of those traditional events which happen in Barga once a year where it would seem that the whole city is taking part, either as a participant or just a viewer.

In fact the Presepe Vivente depends very heavily on the weather as inclement weather sometimes means that the high spot of the Christmas calendar has to be cancelled, as in 2009 and 2010 and so today all eyes were on the weather forecast – rain was expected.

Normally on any other year, all the work and preparation that goes into putting on an event of this size and complexity came to a triumphant conclusion with more than 200 people – “figuranti” taking part and many hundreds more enjoying the event to the full.

Images from the annual presepe vivente from past years can be seen here – Le immagini delle passate edizioni del presepe vivente possono essere viste qui;  2020 |  2019 |   2018 |  2017|   2016  | 20152014 | 2012 |  2011 |  2008 |  2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2000

But with Covid-19 and some very strict social distance regulations in force, none of the above could take place.

Instead many people followed a severely cut down version with Mary and Joseph as central figures moving through the mediaeval city.

Another change in the traditional event with the patronage of Contemplazioni was the huge projection on the facade of the Duomo of an image of the glazed terracotta “Nativity” by Luca Della Robbia – the joy of the musician angels and cherubs surrounding the baby Jesus in the crib will now stretch beyond the walls of the convent of San Francesco to excite all those who will come to admire it in Barga.

So on a normal year, what actually is the Prespe Vivente ? a simple question but quite a complex answer is needed to get anywhere near to explaining as quite often with traditional events some of the original reasons and methods behind why an event is made or performed in that particular form are not clear.

The gradually evolving form of the event goes under the blanket description of “tradition” and is therefore a difficult animal to pin down.

Just by looking at the images in any of these articles , it is possible to see that it is a historical event with Mary and Joseph as central figures moving through a mediaeval town but what is not clear is at what precise date in history the couple are appearing.

Looking at them the date should be somewhere around zero. The Roman centurions and census takers (speaking in Latin) would seem to confirm that date but just before Mary and Joseph and their donkey arrived in the census room, their first port of call was to a schoolroom with desks and chairs, pupils and a teacher all meticulously wearing clothes dating from probably the 1930′s.

As they then make their way through Barga Vecchia, they stop and rest outside the cellars and cantinas of millers, stonemasons, people making sausages, carpenters, charcoal makers and cobblers all dressed in clothes from the turn of the 1900′s.

Strangely enough it is quite believable, there she is, Mary with her husband Joseph standing patiently at her side as they stop for a few minutes in an authentic looking cantina with women sewing sheets in the dim light behind them.

Eventually they make their way up to the Duomo where in a stable, miracle of miracles, a live baby appears in the arms of Mary followed moments later by the arrival of three Kings arriving bearing gifts just as a rocket is fired up into the night sky.

Is it a star or a comet ? What ever it is, it means that the Presepe Vivente are once more finished for the year and hopefully next year, weather permitting, will be back even more baffling, beguiling, exciting, and above all – moving.


Come diceva Vasari, Luca Della Robbia «faceva l’opere di terra quasi eterne». Con il patrocinio di Contemplazioni, il Duomo di Barga diventa per il periodo natalizio il palcoscenico delle robbiane, ossia delle terrecotte invetriate che hanno resistito alle ingiurie del tempo e adornano ancora oggi gli interni di molte chiese toscane.

La “Natività”, attribuita a Luca Della Robbia detto il Giovane (1509), verrà proiettata sulla facciata del Duomo di Barga: la gioia degli angeli musicanti e dei cherubini che circondano Gesù bambino nel presepio oltrepasserà le mura del convento di San Francesco per emozionare tutti coloro che verranno ad ammirarla a Barga.

CONTEMPLAZIONI – Una squadra di professionisti altamente qualificati nell’organizzazione e produzione di mostre e iniziative culturali di alto profilo, in costante dialogo con le maggiori istituzioni nazionali e internazionali.

CONTEMPLAZIONI promuove e diffonde espressioni della cultura e dell’arte quali strumenti per la crescita e la coesione sociale.

Fine ultimo di ogni sua attività sono la valorizzazione e tutela del patrimonio artistico italiano in ogni sua aspetto, ritenendolo elemento determinante per lo sviluppo del Paese.

Their web page can be seen here