Certosa e Museo di San Martino

Certosa e Museo di San Martino information

Naples , Italy
Largo San Martino 5
+390 848 80 02 88
adult/reduced €6/3
Opening hours
8.30am-6.30pm Thu-Tue
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Originally built by Charles of Anjou in 1325, this former Carthisian monastery hilltop has been decorated, adorned and altered over the centuries by some of the greats of Italian art and architecture, most importantly Giovanni Antonio Dosio in the 16th century and baroque master Cosimo Fanzago a century later. Today, it's a superb repository of Neapolitan artistry, all of it wisely collected by its resident monks.

The monastery's church and the rooms that flank it contain a feast of frescoes and paintings by some of Naples' greatest 17th-century artists. In the pronaos (a small room flanked by three walls and a row of columns), Micco Spadaro's frescoes of Carthusian persecution seem to defy perspective as figures sit with their legs hanging over nonexistent edges. Elsewhere throughout the church you'll discover works by Francesco Solimena, Massimo Stanzione, Giuseppe de Ribera, Luca Giordano and Battista Caracciolo. Especially noteworthy is the sascristy, adorned with extraordinarily detailed 16th-century marquetry (inlaid wood) and carvings.

Adjacent to the church, the Chiostro dei Procuratori is the smaller of the monastery's two cloisters. A grand corridor on the left leads to the larger Chiostro Grande (Great Cloister), considered one of Italy's finest. Originally designed by Giovanni Antonio Dosio in the late 16th century and added to by Fanzago, it's a sublime composition of Tuscan-Doric porticoes, garden and marble statues. The sinister skulls mounted on the balustrade were a light-hearted reminder to the monks of their own mortality.

Just off the Chiostro dei Procuratori is the Sezione Navale , whose two exhibition halls focus on the history of the Bourbon navy from 1734 to 1860. The collection features a series of detailed scale models of late-18th- and 19th-century warships used by the former royals, as well as original navy weaponry. The true highlight, however, is the small collection of original royal barges, among them a gilded, canopied number used by Charles VII and a beautifully carved 18th-century gift to Ferdinand IV from Turkish sultan Selim III.

One of the many museum highlights is the Sezione Presepiale , which houses a whimsical collection of rare Neapolitan presepi carved in the 18th and 19th centuries. These range from the minuscule – a nativity scene in an ornately decorated eggshell – to the colossal Cuciniello creation, which covers one wall of what used to be the monastery's kitchen. Angels fly down to a richly detailed landscape of rocky houses, shepherds and local merrymakers, all made out of wood, cork, papier-mâché and terracotta.

The Quarto del Priore in the southern wing houses the bulk of the picture collection, as well as one of the museum's most famous pieces, Pietro Bernini's tender La vergine col bambino e San Giovannino (Madonna and Child with the Infant John the Baptist).

A pictorial history of Naples is told in the section Immagini e Memorie di Napoli (Images and Memories of Naples). Here you'll find portraits of historic characters (Don Pedro de Toledo in Room 33, Maria Carolina di Borbone in Room 43); antique maps, including a 35-panel copper map in Room 45; and rooms dedicated to major historical events such as the Revolt of the Masaniello (Room 36) and the plague (Room 37). Room 32 boasts the beautiful Tavola Strozzi (Strozzi Table), whose fabled depiction of 15th-century maritime Naples is one of the city's most celebrated historical records.

It's worth noting that some of the exhibitions may close down for some part of the day, so it's a good idea to phone ahead and check if you're especially keen on seeing a particular part of the museum.