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Editor'S Choice - 2020

The Cloisters: a trip to the Middle Ages in New York

We give you five reasons why you should put this European and medieval corner, an outdoor extension of the Metropolitan, on your list of 'Places not to be lost' in the Big Apple.

Let's get out of the classic circuits. If Brooklyn has recently sneaked into the Top 10 of what needs to be done when coming to New York, now is the time to expand borders to the north of the island of Manhattan and not just to go to a gospel mass, so that we climb a little more almost to the northwest tip, to breathe fresh air, enjoy breathtaking views and feel somewhere else for a while.

The entrance to The Cloisters is included with the Metropolitan if you go on the same day (recommended price 25 dollars, but you can pay what you want, from one dollar). And, we promise, the visit to one of the best museums in the world is not complete if you don't go up to this museum-monastery.


Is it a monastery? It's a museum? Is it a museum-monastery? It is a piece of Europe in New York. A corner of medieval peace on the island of Manhattan, in the middle of a park. A monastery-shaped museum combining European Gothic and Romanesque styles. Opened in 1938 by order of John Rockefeller Jr., built by Charles Collens, under the supervision of George Gray Barnard, sculptor, collector and art buyer for the Rockefellers and other fortunes. Obsessed with the medieval era, Barnard dedicated himself to saving and buying statues, reliquaries, columns, doors and entire chapels in France, Holland, Germany and Spain. He brought them to New York and, after a while of keeping them private, they were exposed in this place. "Cloisters" means cloisters: the building has four different cloisters built in the image of Europeans and pieces (capitals, pieces of columns) of those that have been inspired. Of all, the most beautiful is the main one, the Cuxa Cloister, from a French monastery, near Perpignan. Or the Bonnefront, overlooking the river and with vegetable garden of the Middle Ages.

Manhattan? © Thinkstock


This is what you will think as soon as you leave the subway, at stop 190 of line A, and turn towards Fort Tryon Park, the almost wild green area that protects the Cloisters. It is one of the highest places in Manhattan, and almost further north, a continuation of the also essential Inwood Hill Park. You have several ways to get to the museum: along the promenade hanging at the edge of the river, between huge trees and small green spaces where New Yorkers go to picnic; or for the most landscaped walk, where you will meet New leaf, a restaurant (the best, its squid) in a beautiful stone building also built in the 30s and restored by the foundation of actress Bette Midler. In any case, when you see the Cloisters building on the small hill, you will have to ask yourself a moment: "where I am?"

A salad at the New Leaf restaurant © Corbis


When John D. Rockefeller Jr. devised this medieval museum in which to keep the collection that had been bought by Professor and sculptor George Gray Barnard, he thought about it as the European monasteries were: Retired sites, in nature, to forget the worldly noise, with good views, fresh air. Therefore, he not only bought the Fort Tryon Park where the Cloisters are located but also acquired several hundreds of acres across the Hudson River, in New Jersey, to preserve the view of the museum from the other shore. Now that view seems to be in danger because of the threat of a large company ... luckily, the grandson of that Rockefeller and the Metropolitan (the current owners) are struggling to avoid it.

A piece of Europe in New York © Corbis


One of the most impressive rooms is this 12th century apse brought whole from the church of San Martín de Fuentidueña in Segovia. Probably, it was the adjacent chapel of a castle and is in this museum as a loan from the Spanish government. It is decorated with a fresco, perfectly preserved, which they acquired from the Church of Santa María de Cap d'Aran de Tredós (Catalonia), and with a crucifix from the same period, acquired in 1935 and which probably came from the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara , in Palencia. In addition to the other rooms we find other frescoes (from Burgos), sculptures (Catalan), crockery (Valencian), an Aragonese altar and even graves ...

The Cloisters turn 75 © Corbis


Although the works began in 1925, it was not inaugurated until May 1938 and, therefore, The Cloisters now celebrate their 75th anniversary with parties, events and special exhibitions throughout the year. Now and until August you can see Search for the Unicorn (In search of the unicorn), a sample about this mythological being, its analogies and meaning in the Middle Ages, from the impressive and restored French tapestries of the Unicorn, from the 16th century. There will also be concerts and musical installations in the Fuentidueña chapel. And, as the Yankees are like that, the museum is very well prepared for children, to those who put in a kind of yincana very Indiana Jones to the "Treasure Hunt".

So there are no excuses, The Cloisters, a must see.

In search of the unicorn © Corbis

Video: Glories of Medieval Art: The Cloisters (April 2020).

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