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Naples' San Gregorio Armeno: Street's artisans at risk due to lack of tourism

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By Luca Palamara
Via San Gregorio Armeno, famous for its statuettes, is empty, in downtown Naples, southern Italy, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Via San Gregorio Armeno, famous for its statuettes, is empty, in downtown Naples, southern Italy, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.   -   Copyright  Alessandro Pone/LaPresse

COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are proving costly to shops and businesses worldwide - and in Naples, they may be fatal to artisan workshops in the street of San Gregorio Armeno.

Located in the historic city of Naples, in Italy, this narrow street is the most famous centre in the world for producing small statues embellishing Nativity scenes, the so-called ‘presepe’, which is present in many houses at Christmas time.

Artisans have been working and keeping this centuries-old tradition alive in this street for generations, but since the first lockdown in March 2020, they are struggling to survive. Recently, after weeks of forced closure, they finally re-opened, but that is not enough.

“These five weeks of closure certainly represented a limitation to our work but the point is that re-opening has its limitations too, because there are no tourists here," said Serena D’Alessandro, who is with the Workshops of San Gregorio Armeno Association.

"The street of San Gregorio Armeno lives off tourism and with no tourism it makes no difference whether we are open or closed, because takings are at an all-time low.”

Before the pandemic, the street in the heart of Naples was packed with tourists and visitors year round. But on the first day of re-opening, the street was still empty.

Now many of its artisans say they won't be able to stay afloat and may be forced to sell up.

Offers have already been made to the most desperate artisans in this street. Businesses from Italy's north and overseas are ready to transform this street into something else.

“Even if one single workshop shuts its door down to sell to another type of activity, which has nothing to do with our tradition, it would be a massive defeat for us, because it may spread like wildfire and our tradition will cease to exist,” Gabriele Casillo, President of Workshops of San Gregorio Armeno Association, told Euronews.

UNESCO protection of the ‘presepe’ is one possible solution, along with making the historic centre a COVID-free zone, where all residents are vaccinated and only tourists who are Covid-free or vaccinated may get in.

Artisans are hoping the regional and national governments will help them find a solution to prevent the street – and its historic traditions – from disappearing.