Friday, 11 November 2011

Museo de Belenes, Alicante

If you have an hour or so to spare in Alicante, a very pleasant way of passing the time is to visit the Museo de Belenes. Belenes is the plural form of Belén, or Bethlehem. In fact, the word is used here to indicate a nativity scene.

You don't have to be Christian to enjoy the displays of modelling that are exhibited in this small, but well looked after museum. I'm an atheist, but have been fascinated by the Spanish tradition of Belenes since I first discovered it some ten years ago and can only admire the work and dedication that goes into setting up these delightful models.

You can find Belenes all over Spain during the weeks leading up to the celebrations of the winter solstice (used by Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ) and on to Epiphany. They range in size from small scenes that people set up in their homes to very large scenes, sometimes displayed by a village or town, either outside, or, as in Guardamar, in a special room. Sometimes the scenes are extremely large, covering many square metres, often set up by local enthusiasts. San Javier, where the Murcia airport is located, claims to have the largest open-air Belen of Spain, covering 520 square metres and incorporating more than 1200 model figures with many moving elements. Another large one not too far from Guardamar is to be found in Casillas, a suburb of Murcia. This Belén is under cover and is particularly well known for its many moving parts.

Almost all Belenes have a secret: somewhere, hidden in the scene or scenes depicted, is a man crouching down, with his trousers around his ankles, doing his business. He is known as El Caganer (the crapper) and is said to be fertilizing the soil of the Belén, so that it will flourish again the following year. Probably originating in Catalonia, the caganer has become a popular element in Belenes and a small industry has grown around this single figure, selling not only the traditional form, but others, too, often depicting well-known personalities, including royalty and politicians, such as Barak Obama and Angela Merkel, to name but two.

I have to admit that I did not notice a Caganer in the museum, which was something of a disappointment, but otherwise the museum is a jewel, with many typically Spanish displays, as well as numerous nativity scenes from other parts of the world. The models are made of all sorts of material, ranging from clay, to wood, to ceramics, as well as less likely materials.

Entry to the museum is free. It is open from Tuesday to Friday, from 10:00 until 14:00 and from 17:00 until 20:00. You can find more information and a map of the location of the museum here.

I have made a small Picasa album, showing the inside of the museum.

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