Every year on December 8th, for the past fifty years, Manarola – in Liguria’s Cinque Terre – has lit up with one of the largest nativity scenes in the world. It all started with Mario Andreoli, born in 1927, who on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception flips the switch that illuminates the Hill of the Three Crosses, dotted by 250 figures, covered by 15,000 light bulbs.
Here is how a philosopher and journalist tells Mario’s story:
“‘Excuse my short breath. At eighty-six, going up and down the hill gets harder and harder. But I can’t stop: there is a broken wire somewhere, and I cannot find the fault.’ In Manarola, in the province of La Spezia, at the heart of the Cinque Terre, the fifteen thousand light bulbs that illuminate Mario Andreoli’s nativity are about to be switched on. Everything, among the kilometers of wires that have been spread out on a surface of 4,000 square meters, has to be perfect.”
“For fifty-three years, thanks to months of hard, stubborn, and quiet work, this retired railroader has lit up Christmas for the thousands of people who look at the hill at sunset, and are left breathless.”
“‘In 1961, on his deathbed, my father asked me to replace the cross on top of the family hill,’ Mario says. ‘Once I fixed the cross, I had the idea to light it up using a car battery: it looked wonderful.’”
“A single lit-up cross quickly turned into a nativity that can be seen in the dark and from the sea: with iron rods and all kinds of salvaged material, angle grinder and welding torch in hand, the railroader began creating characters for the nativity, letting his imagination run free. In 1985, when he retired and could finally focus completely on the project, he had already made thirty different figures.”
“Today, there are over two hundred and fifty shepherds and fishermen, sheep and dolphins, seagulls and camels, angels and Magi on the ‘hill of lights’. Each structure weighs about twenty kilos, and Mario – after September’s grape harvest – carries each one up his slice of mountain, climbing the terracing to put his masterpiece in place with the eye of a true set designer.”
“After Candlemas, on February 2nd, Mario takes everything down on his own again, piece by piece, and puts his treasure in a safe place. ‘It’s a huge job, but my efforts are compensated by an excitement I cannot describe, when I see it come back every December’” (translated from T. Pievani-F.Taddia, “Il maschio è inutile: un saggio quasi filosofico”, Bompiani, Milan 2014).
Christmas in Manarola lasts until February. To find it, just follow the lights.