Certosa di San Martino

A former monastery complex, the Certosa di San Martino offers a number of gripping delights behind its many walls

Dominating the Neapolitan skyline, the Certosa di San Martino sits upon the Vomero Hill and offers visitors commanding views over the bay, so it is well worth making the effort to get up the slope. Known in English as Saint Martin’s Charterhouse, the Certosa di San Martino is a large former Carthusian monastery complex which dates back to the fourteenth century. Dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, the monastery is perhaps the best-known and most iconic structure in the city of Naples. Tourists who are heading to the nearby Castel de Sant’Elmo will be able to visit both sites easily on the same day since they are just a stone’s throw away from each other, both occupying a prominent and easy-to-find position.

Discovering the Charterhouse

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the National Museum of San Martino has been located within the complex. The San Martino Monastery and Museum still has some cloisters and a chapel, which you might expect of a building that was originally designed as a religious structure. However, there is also a charterhouse, some stunning terraced gardens and in excess of 70 large rooms which now serve as the museum. In fact, the museum occupies the part of the monastery that was once served as the monks’ living quarters. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that the monks abandoned the San Martino Monastery, following pressure from the French-occupying authorities. After that, the building was gradually converted to its current use.

The exhibits on show in the museum represent virtually every century in the life of the city. There are a number of well-preserved paintings that date to the thirteenth century, in the high Medieval period, for example. In the museum, visitors can also enjoy Neapolitan sculptures from the nineteenth century, as well. For those interested in humanities, there is an exhibition room that is devoted to Italian folk art of the region. In another room you can find information and exhibits that relate to Mount Vesuvius, the famous volcano which overlooks the city. The museum also houses some delightful woodcarvings that date to the Renaissance period, too, along with rare china wares, corals and ivory pieces.

Architecture and Art

One of the architectural highlights of the Certosa di San Martino is the Chiostro Grande, or large cloister. This cloister was designed in the sixteenth century in a sumptuous style and boasts marble columns forming a portico. There is also a noteworthy mosaic floor here and it is possible to see the now defunct monks’ cemetery nearby, too. Further floor mosaics are worth looking at within the chapel, as well. Originally built in the Gothic style, much of the complex’ appearance was modified throughout various expansions and alteration in the Renaissance.

Art lovers will find the Certosa di San Martino a superb place to visit since it houses many baroque and rococo works of art. Painters like Battistello Caracciolo and Luca Giordano have their works on display. Indeed, sculptors such as Giuseppe Sanmartino and Domenico Antonio Vaccaro are also represented among the works of art on show. In the church at the site, the Chiesa delle Donne, visitors can experience the frescoes of Giovanni Lanfranco in person, too. Alone, these works of art mean that they make the Certosa di San Martino one of the most important museums in Naples, in their own right.

Making Your Way

Although it lies at the top of a hill, the Certosa di San Martino can be reached via Naples’ funicular railway and is only about five minutes walk from the stop. The nearest underground station is Piazza Vanvitelli, on metro line 1, which still means walking up the hill for about ten minutes. However, it is possible to catch a bus from the metro station in order to avoid the worst of the incline. Don’t let the hill put you off, because the trip is well worth the effort made once you arrive.