A Trip to The Cloisters

The Cloisters museum in NYC A couple weeks ago Alex and I took a trip up to The Cloisters. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, especially because it’s part of The Met, which can do no wrong in my book.

Set on top of a hill overlooking Fort Tryon Park on the border of Washington Heights and Inwood, the museum features European Medieval art and architecture. I accidentally took the long way up from the park, through leafy back roads and up a series of hidden steps, and I’d recommend that to anyone visiting. Perhaps the best part of The Cloisters is the way that everything feels like an adventure, even before you get to the actual museum. 

The Cloisters museum in NYC

The museum gets its name from its collection of four cloisters, which were brought from medieval French monasteries and reconstructed. If you aren’t sure what a cloister is — I wasn’t — it’s a roofed arcade running along the sides of buildings, which face each other to form a rectangular-shaped indoor courtyard of sorts. They’re usually found in Medieval churches and were historically home to monks and nuns.

The Cloisters museum in NYC

The Cloisters museum in NYC

My favorite was the Bonnenfont Cloister, where the main attraction was a garden, featuring an extensive collection of Medieval herbs and plants used back then for medicinal and household purposes. They had everything from a tiny pomegranate tree to more rare plants that I’d never heard of. I could have stayed there for hours, inspecting each plant and taking in the views of the Hudson River.

(Check out my YouTube video for a tour of the Bonnenfort Garden and The Cloisters.)

Stained glass windows and arches at The Cloisters museum in NYC

The Cloisters also houses several chapels, as well as a collection of Medieval art, like manuscripts, stained glass windows and perhaps most notably, tapestries. I was thrilled to see the “Unicorn in Captivity”, which I distinctly remember reading about in my Art History textbook. It’s part of a series of seven equally arresting tapestries about the hunt and capture of a magical unicorn. 

Unicorn in Captivity housed at The Cloisters museum in NYC

The museum felt small and manageable (two hours was more than enough time to linger over everything), with just enough elements of surprise for the first time visitor. The focus is on the architecture and the atmosphere, and the overall effect is a sort of calming oasis. People were instinctively quiet and reflective, the way the monks might have been as they strolled through the cloisters and gardens. 

Want more? Check out my vlog:

P.S. Lost in time at the Frick Collection in NYC and the ultimate guide to summer in NYC.

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4 Comments

  1. September 12, 2016 / 1:09 pm

    One of my favorite spots too. I started going regularly when my girlfriend (now wife) lived in Inwood at one point. Everything you say about it is so true. It is very calming there, and because less people go to it compared to the Met, it is very enjoyable. What I love about museums as much as the art on display is quite often the physical space. And the Cloisters is all about ‘the space.’ Great job on this and nice photos too!

    • WordPress.com Support
      September 12, 2016 / 1:14 pm

      Thanks, Robert! I agree 100%. My favorite museums are the ones that really pay attention to design and give you an immersive experience, as so many of them do. The Cloisters now has a special place in my heart.

    • September 9, 2016 / 12:12 pm

      Isn’t it? It was especially nice looking at the whole series together. They are all larger than life and very rich in detail and color.

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