Nativity scene at Vatican's St. Peter's Square sculpted out of 700 tons of sand

More than 700 tons of sand was trucked in from northern Italy.

The sand comes from Jesolo, a resort town near Venice. It was taken from an inland area -- more compactable than seaside sand -- and brought to the Vatican last month.

The artists worked on site for weeks behind a screen to prevent people from seeing the scene before it was finished.

"It is a spectacularly wonderful experience, nothing like I could have ever done in 30 years of business, to be here surrounded by such a rich culture, history and the art from the masters," he said. "It's a very humbling and emotional experience."

The Nativity scene is by the obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s square next to the decorated large Christmas tree. It will have a canopy covering it to protect it from the rain and plastic curtains for use in case of bad winds and storms.

Pilgrims, tourists and Romans traditionally flock to the square during Christmas to see the Nativity scene. It will remain there until January 7, after which the sand will be returned to where it came from.

Pope Francis, in thanking sponsors for the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene, said Friday that the sand is "a poor material, recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God revealed himself with the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem."

The pope will visit and bless the Nativity scene on December 31.