The Floating Nativity of Battaglia Terme

| Wed, 12/12/2012 - 10:17

Battaglia Terme these days is an unremarkable faded spa town on the fringes of the Euganean Hills in the Veneto. It had its early origins in the 12th and 13th centuries, first when its canal was constructed to carry the quarried stone from the hills to pave Venice, and again at the beginning of the 20th century when it was renowned as having the best mud in Italy and people travelled there by rail for a cure.

Now it’s a rather sleepy place outshone by the nearby rival spa of Abano Terme, but nothing can eclipse its one modern claim to fame –the floating nativity scene on the canal at Christmas.

Presepe Battaglia Terme

At the beginning of December work begins on the tableau. Vans park next to the canal, bringing shop dummies to be dressed in Biblical robes and set in poses on barges which are hitched to briccole or poles, which stand in the water, rather as they do in Venice for tying up gondolas.

The first boat represents the stable, with Mary, Joseph and the infant sitting in a makeshift shelter in front of a glowing fire, which is reflected in the water. The second old boat, borrowed from the Museum of River Navigation, carries the shepherds and their sheep, made in the local primary school. Next in the chain of boats are the three kings resplendent in their flowing colourful robes and carrying their gifts. Then there are barges full of figures touchingly representing the locals with traditional crafts such as wine making, spinning, knife grinding, clog making…All the figures are life-size and form such realistic groups that cars travelling along the SS16 road parallel to the canal often screech to a halt to look more closely.

Presepe Battaglia Terme

Two years ago someone managed to haul in the boat belonging to the three kings and steal the lot, figures and all. The boat was left sadly empty apart from an indignant notice asking that they should be returned because this was a precious local part of Christmas. The magi did not reappear, but undaunted, the good folk of Battaglia replaced them last year with even more elaborate versions.

The passegiata at Battaglia Terme has an added air of festivity at Christmas when families stroll along the tow path to admire the flotilla, often nibbling the seasonal goodies from the nearby pasticceria.

Presepe Battaglia Terme

The floating nativity is a rather surprising sight in wintry daylight, when the watery colourless surroundings are punctuated with all this joyful colour. At night it is absolutely magical, floodlit with shimmering reflexions in the gently lapping water. It is truly an embodiment of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men.

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