From just about everywhere in the city you can catch a glimpse of this beautiful white citadel stretching across Vomero Hill. With Castle Sant’Elmo looming behind, it is one of the most iconic vistas of Naples and the first view that greets visitors arriving by sea. Built as a Carthusian Monastery, this splendid piece of real estate is now the steward of the most important repository of Neapolitan Art and History.
Be it major events or scenes of daily life, the city’s history from the Angevin Monarchy of the 15th century to Unification in the 19th is told through historical portraits and paintings, sketches, architectural drawings, prints, maps, and a wide variety of objects, including sculptures, models, and decorative arts objects such as ceramics, porcelain, and glass.
The museum also houses the foremost collection of Neapolitan Presepi, which has been expanding since its first acquisition, the Cuciniello Presepe. Donated by Michele Cuciniello in the late 19th century it includes some 800 pieces and is equipped with a lighting system that simulates dawn, daytime, sunset, and night.
The grounds and the architecture are as impressive as the museum and are rivalled only by the views of the city and the bay from the Charterhouse, it’s location on Vomero Hill having been chosen by Charles, Duke of Calabria. Construction of his Carthusian Monastery started in 1325, but Charles died a few years later and it would be nearly fifty years before the complex would be completed under the reign of his daughter Joan I of Naples.
Originally conceived in the Gothic style, the complex has seen its share of modifications over the years, the history of which is recorded in the Museum dell’Opera, the Museum of the Works. The most dramatic changes were during the Baroque period, and in fact, the main cloister or the Chiostro Grande is attributed to Cosimo Fanzago. One of the most beautiful and provoking cloisters in the city, it was the stage for Spakka – Neapolis 55’s rendition of Vesuvio in John Turturro’s Passione.
In January 2015, the Gothic Basement of the San Martino Charterhouse and Museum re-opened to the public after an extended closure. The exhibition includes about one hundred and fifty works in marble dating from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century including a Giuseppe Sammartino masterpiece, St. Francis of Assisi (1785-1788 approximately). Visits are every Saturday and Sunday at 11.30 with obligatory booking. Check here for more information.
If you have time to spare, explore the complex with the audio guide (€4,00) and combine your visit with a trip to the top of Castel Sant’Elmo for even more breathtaking views of the city. After which, make your way down to the Spanish Quarter along one of Naples famed stairways, Salita della Pedimentina.
The San Martino Charterhouse and Museum is part of the Neapolitan Museum Network Polo Museale Napoli, which is supported by Amici di Capodimonte – Friends of the Capodimonte Museum. In addition to supporting these museums, Amici di Capodimonte memberships include discounts, special tours, and more. Memberships start at €30,00 for students, €80,00 for adults.