It is a Portuguese tradition to create nativity scenes, and whilst most towns and villages stop with the representation of the scene in the cave, in some towns such as Vila Real de Santo António they recreate the whole scene, and here they’ve started with Mary’s village.
Now in its 13th year this is an incredible creation; there are over 4000 figurines all caught up in the daily life of the Algarve and the holy lands two thousand years ago. I’ve mentioned the Algarve as whilst Jesus may not have visited, it is usual in the Portuguese nativity scenes to include local traditions and there are plenty in this Presépio Gigante. Some of the figurines are mechanised and a few will make you smile such as this man behind the tree! If you look carefully you will spot Mary and Joseph en route to Bethlehem, Herod’s census taker and also the wise men. I suspect Mary and Joseph are moved daily to represent their journey.
The scene of villages, mountains and desert cover an area of 220square metres and is made out of 20 tons of sand, 4 tons of stone powder and 2500 kilos of cork. Unsurprisingly the team who made this took 40 days to create it. The team was led by Augusto Rosa and Teresa Marques, two municipal employees and helped by three other employees: Joaquim Soares, Telmo Crispin and John Gomes. It must be one of the largest in Portugal.
It really is extraordinary, yet costs only 50cents per person to see. If you are in the Algarve between now and 10th January then do go and see it. It is located in the Centro Cultural António Alexio, which is only a minute or so from the main square in Vila Real de Santo António. The Crib is open daily from 10h00 to 13h00 and from 14h30 to 19h00. On January 1 will be open from 14.30 to 19.00. (NB Some guides indicate it closes on 6th rather than 10th)