Art et Culture

Santa Chiara Monastic Complex (Church, Monastery and Majolica Cloister) - Naples

The Church and Monastic Complex of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare) were built between 1310 and 1340 according to the wishes of Robert d'Anjou and Queen Sancia, near the western city wall, at the beginning of the "Lower Decuman" (today known as Via San Biagio dei Librai or "Spaccanapoli").
The Church was originally constructed with the "Gothic forms of Provence" by Gagliardo Primario, however between the 17th and 18th centuries it was lavishly renovated in the Baroque style.
After the heavy bombardments of 1943, which caused great damage, and a fire that almost destroyed it entirely, the Church was stripped back to its original Gothic style with restoration work that was finished in 1953.
The facade is sober and imposing, with a large central "rose-window".
The bell-tower is separate from the main structure and was begun in 1328, but finished only in the 1500s, when it was equipped with five bells.
The bells fell in the bombardment of 1943 were put back in place in 1949.
The external perimeter is made of yellow tufa stone with a few elements in piperno stone which were highlighted in the pronaos with its three ogival arches, the central one being the highest.
The buttresses present on the left side are characteristic of the Provencal Gothic style, with the alternating single hols and pointed arches.
On the facade there is also a rosette which is unique of its kind, enclosed in a larger oculus where six circles turn on tangents to create five more.
The large portal in red and yellow marble, placed beneath the rosette, is topped by decorations on the jambs and lintels and the coat of arms of Queen Sancia.
The interior is made up of a rectangular room that is 82 metres long, 30 metres wide and 46 metre high, with ten chapels on each side and a flat far wall with two small rosettes, that create a central space where the Angevin tombs lie.
Behind the main altar there is the grand "Sepulchre of Roberto", only slightly damaged by the bombardments; it is a work by the brothers Giovanni and Pacio Bertini, representing the seated figure of King Roberto, and above it there is an epigraph attributed to Francesco Petrarca ("cernite Robertum regem virtute refertum"), a great admirer of the Angevin sovereign.
The ninth chapel retains the Baroque structure, and hold the remains of the Bourbons: in particular, the sumptuous tomb of Prince Phillip, first son of Charles III, made by Giuseppe Sanmartino (1777); opposite this there is the sepulchre of the venerable Maria Cristina of Savoy, Queen of Naples.
The first chapel on the left, next to the entrance, holds the remains of "Salvo d'Acquisto", the carabineer who sacrificed his life during the Second World War to save a group of civilians from Nazi reprisal.
Next to the Church is the "Clarissan Choir", which still retains the 14th century structure with the remains of the original frescoes attributed to Giotto and his workshop.
The library contains the particularly important fresco of the "Crucifixion" that Gennaro Pierro painted between 1769 and 1773 and others representing monastic life.
The grand "Majolica Cloister" of the Clarissans: originally in the Gothic style, it was transformed in 1742 by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro who decorated the structure and the 72 octagonal pilasters with splendid "polychrome tiles" in Rococo style, designed by Vaccaro himself and manufactured by the Neapolitan "riggiolari" Donato and Giuseppe Massa.
The pilasters which are connected by seats, are decorated with motifs of vines wisteria, that wind in a spiral up to the capital which supports the pergola.
On the backrests of the majolica seats there are rural, marine and mythological motifs.
The Cloister has two large internal avenues that meet in the centre, and generous, mostly orchard, garden areas; the themes of the decorations also show that in its time it was more a garden of delights than simply place of prayer.
Today it is a efficient refuge for those who are looking for a peaceful and quiet corner in the heart of the city.
On the 14th of August 1943, a heavy bombardment hit Santa Chiara and devastated the structure and its works of art.
The immense fire burned continuously for five days, because of the extremely high temperatures, the marble calcified, the sculptures disintegrated and many paintings and frescoes were totally destroyed.
After that the restoration work was led by the Franciscan P. Gaudenzio dell'Aja who restored the building to its ancient Gothic splendour, re-establishing its historical and artistic value.


While the treasures of Santa Chiara could not all be saved, many wooden and marble fragments of masterpieces from various epochs are now collected in the rooms of the "Museum of the Works of Santa Chiara".
For almost fifty years, in fact every thing that could be saved from the fire was left in a state of semi-abandon in the warehouses of the holy Complex.
The Museum of the Works of Santa Chiara, whose reopening ceremony was exactly 10 years ago, is a place of ideal synthesis between the various components archaeological, historical, architectonic and artistic of the monumental Complex.
It is made up 4 rooms, and an attempt has been made to identify the salient stages of a very complex series of events that developed there over almost two thousands years of religious and artistic life: the "Archaeological and Thermal Spa Room", the "History Room", the "Marble Room" and the "Relics Room".
In the Archaeological Room there is a display of the more important archaeological finds found in the area of Santa Chiara, dating from the 1st to the 4th centuries a.D.; from this room there is access to the digs that have brought to light the remains of a thermal spa building that dated back to the first centuries a.D., which represents the most complete recorded examples of the thermal spa in the ancient City of Neapolis.
It comprises a pool, located in a covered ambient, and whose benches and access stairs for the bathers have survived; and area into which the pool looks that was possibly a gym; a sector for the actual spa plant at ground floor and basement level.
A "laconicum" (a room used for hot air "baths"), a "tepidarium" (for warm water bathing) and other rooms have been identified, but not all the applications are certain, as well as the waster supply pipes.
A large brick structure, later used as a cistern, may well be the "frigidarium" (for cold water bathing) or a "nymphaeum".
In the History Room there are illustrations of the story of the conventual Complex from its origins to its current state.
Among these are the only two surviving exquisite vases of an abundant series which Domenico Antonio Vaccaro had designed to decorate the renewed Majolica Cloister.
In the Marble Room there is the collection of fragments of marble works from the Basilica, from the annexed Monastery of the Clarissans and from the near by small Convent of Minor Friars, dating from the 14th century onwards.
Among these there is the splendid frieze of approximately 18 metres, with episodes of the life and martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and the 14th century pulpit.
In the Relics Room there is display of imposing holy parameters, rich reliquaries from the 17th and 18th centuries, wooden works of great expressive intensity, such as the work by Giovanni of Nola (1520 ca.), the "Ecce Homo", and a fragment of the "Holy Family", by an anonymous 17th century sculptor.
The Museum also has an Exhibition Room where a number of exhibitions have been held, including the permanent exhibition entitled Suffering and Hope about the disasters of war in the world.
The museum is run by the Franciscan Centre of Culture "Oltre il Chiostro". (Gianmaria Romano)

Naples, Via Benedetto Croce 16

All days from 9.30 to 13.00 and from 15.30 to 17.30
On Sunday and Bank Holidays from 9.30 to 13.00

EUR 4,00 Adults
10% discount with Campania Artecard

How you can get there from the Hotel
From the Piazza Amedeo Station take line 2 on the subway, in the direction of Gianturco, and get off in Piazza Cavour (second stop). From Piazza Cavour enter in Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli arriving to the crossroad with Via Benedetto Croce; proceed, turning on the right, for about 50 metres: the Monastic Complex of Santa Chiara is Via Benedetto Croce 16.


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