Throughout history, this hilltop town just south of Rome was infamous for being a den for brigands. The reason for this is simply due to its layout.
You see, Artena has no roads. There is of course a road leading to it, but once you are in the town, it is nothing but a main narrow path of steps flanked by houses the entire way, with smaller offshoot side paths, also only steps. This made it very easy to block the main path at the bottom and the top, thus securing the town much like a castle against incursions by Papal guards, hence its notoriety.
Things have quieted down (somewhat) in our time, but its layout has remained unchanged. To this day, goods are still brought up and trash is still brought down by donkeys and mules. It has the unique honor of being Europe’s largest non-carriageable town.
From any angle, an Italian would say it is a presepe (Christmas nativity scene). Why? Well, it is only natural that the traditional miniature manger scenes built once a year by Italians will look less like Bethlehem and more like the majority of towns in Italy. After all, that’s what local folks are familiar with and are justifiably proud to represent. Thus, when positively describing any archetypal hilltop town with its wonderful views and charming atmosphere, we say “…e’ veramente un presepe.” (It’s such a presepe.)
What makes a visit to Artena this month special, is that the entire town (the families, groups of friends, the school children, the parish, the two cafes, etc etc) has decided to fill each and every nook and cranny with presepi. (And trust me, there is no dearth of either nooks or crannies in Artena!)
And sure enough, almost each and every presepe looks like it is set in Artena… which is the town you are in… while admiring miniature representations of itself…
Basically, this is another one of those delightful infinitely recursive loops that always brings a smile. In any one of the presepi on display here, you almost expect to see a figurine of yourself, stooped over, admiring an even smaller presepe in turn…