Located just off Piazza del Gesù on the western end of Centro Storico, Santa Chiara is one of the most beautiful and beloved churches in Naples. Set in a walled, citadel like complex, the church is rare example of the city’s austere Gothic history and a pleasant contrast to the countless churches that were highly ornamented during the Baroque era.
Owed to the Angevin Dynasty (1266 – 1442), Santa Chiara is the early 14th century project of King Robert the Wise and his wife Queen Sancha Majorca. The largest Gothic church in the city, it is best viewed from above, from a vantage point such as Piazzale San Martino where Robert’s son Charles started construction on the San Martino Charterhouse.
Devoted patrons of the Franciscan Order, Robert and Sancha built an unusual double convent to house both nuns of the Order of the Poor Clares and monks of the Order of Franciscan Friars and they dedicated the church to Santa Chiara, Clare of Assisi.
The King’s Royal Chapel and family burial place, Robert’s tomb still stands behind the altar of this apse-less church. To the left and right of him, the tombs of his son Charles, Duke of Calabria who preceded him in death, and Charles’ second wife Marie Valois.
Like its counterparts, Santa Chiara was restyled in the 18th century, the work of Neapolitan painter, sculptor and architect Domenico Antonio Vaccaro. But after being nearly completely destroyed by Allied air raids on August 4, 1943, a controversial ten year long renovation restored the church to its original Gothic splendor.
Reopened in 1953, the first chapel on the left just past the entrance was dedicated to the 23 year old Neapolitan and Italian national hero Salvo D’Acquisto. A Carabinieri during WWII, Salvo sacrificed his own life to the Germans during WWII so that 22 others could live.
The famed Majolica Tiled Cloister that was redesigned as part of Domenico Antonio Vaccaro’s remodel and adorned in hand painted Neapolitan ceramic tiles by Donato and Giuseppe Massa is located behind the church. From there you can reach the Museum of the Works which documents the restoration of Santa Chiara and houses a fine collection of sculpture, pottery, reliquaries and decorative art that survived the WWII bombings.
Outside of the museum is a 1st century AD Roman Thermal Bath Complex that emerged after the air raids. There is also an 18th/19th century Neapolitan Presepe collection in a small room just off of the cloister.