Cava is the town up the hill from Vietri. It's quite a lovely city and the only one I believe in this part of Italy with arcaded streets. It felt a little bit more like Padua or Mantua than Salerno and southern Italy. Many of the shops there are somewhat upscale and there is a whole pedestrian area making it nice to walk around and not dodge cars. The interior of their Duomo is completely under restoration but they had a big sign that advertised their "Presepe Monumentale" so we had to check it out.
Presepe, if you don't know, are the nativity scenes they do here in southern Italy. But not just the manger scene, entire cities are created with, of course, the nativity as the main event. In Sicily we went to a small town in the mountains called Monterossa Almo for what they call "Presepe Vivente," which means a live nativity acted out with real people dressed in period clothing and it included all the townspeople making cheese, bread, the shoemaker, the tinker etc. and it was amazing. We felt as if we had traveled back in time, walking through the ancient streets, peering into doorways on homes that seemed built into the very mountains. (If you want to look in the Archives for December 2005 you will find my writing and our photos from Monterosso Almo.)
We weren't sure what to expect of this one in Cava but it was very charming, though with hand-carved figures and not life size. The man who guided us in told us that some parts of this display were made in the late 1700s and 1800s, if we understood him correctly and has been continually added to and expanded throughout the years. Some appeared quite antique and beautiful. We walked through a maze of rooms with a different scene in each one, representing the history of Italy as well as the birth of Christ. They had the Normans, the Arabs, all the craftspeople, the peasants and the nobility, all costumed and lovingly placed to create a mood, like gigantic room-sized dioramas. We took a few photos but aren't sure you can really appreciate them; the lighting was very dim in there but hope you can get the idea.
We enjoyed Cava and are sure we'll go back again. We found an Erboristeria there and we were happy about that. This is one of those health food/healthy hair and body care shops and it is the only place we have been able to find oatmeal here in Italy. The grocery stores don't even know what we are talking about and direct us to the cold cereal aisle.
Scene with woman on her terrace
Figurine of an Arab man
Another of the scenes in the Presepe at Cava
Close up of shepherds and "contadini" in Nativity scene
The grand finale: the Nativity Scene. Some of these figures are true antiques.