It was a lovely blogging friend who encouraged me to share this third post on the Presépio Gigante in the Centro Cultural António Alexio in Vila Real de Santo António. And I am so glad he did as it even ‘grander’ this year!
Three years ago there were just over 4000 figurines, now there are more than 5000. And it is not just figurines which are added every year to the Presépio Gigante, they also add new buildings. It is quite an extraordinary creation.
You begin your visit in the northern town of Nazareth, the home of Mary. The town is alive with activity, and if you look carefully you can even spot the Roman soldiers making the proclamation which required Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem.
Eventually you find yourself moving away from village life. It takes an even longer time though to make your way through the 100miles of countryside to Bethlehem as there are olive groves to negotiate, rivers to cross and other villages to pass through.
The details are so amazing that I took more than a hundred photographs, but have managed to cut them down to around 50 for this post!
We caught up with Mary and Joseph in a Roman square, unsurprisingly she was beginning to look quite uncomfortable on the donkey. She still though had two days of travel ahead of her before they arrived in Bethlehem. I wonder where they were when Jo visited last week?
On the approach to Bethlehem there is a traditional Portuguese fishermen’s hut beside a small harbour, a ship yard and salt pans. Not sure I want the salt from these pans though; can you spot what one of the workers is doing?!
In the hills above Bethlehem is the cave where Mary and Joseph will be residing, one shepherd is already there. I spotted another in the hills beyond. And that wasn’t the only traditional occupation in the hills, there was a bee keeper with hives made out of cork, a woodsman, a vineyard, a man stacking hay and even a nora.
Whilst life in the hills above Bethlehem were not much different to those around Nazareth, the market in Bethlehem is much larger and busier. There are also different stalls, we spotted a tavern and even a bookstall.
One of the delights of this presépio unlike so many others is that they show the journey the magi will be taking and also glimpses of Roman life. Actually I say a glimpse but there is now an enormous coliseum in front of the temple as well as Romans everywhere. It is a truly wonderful as well as enormous historical model.
Moving away from the Romans you find yourself in the desert. Life is a lot tougher out here especially for the hard working camels!
If you are lucky enough to be in the Algarve for Christmas or New Year, we strongly recommend going. It is open until 6th January 2019 and the entrance fee is only 50cents per person. And you of course will see Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the cave!