The Arts

The Cloisters: New York’s astounding Medieval Treasure Trove

January 3, 2016
The Cloisters, NYC

The Cloisters – medieval masterpieces in an authentic setting. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

The Cloisters is one of New York’s great cultural treasures.  The museum, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is devoted to the art of medieval Europe, which is showcased within genuine medieval architecture.  Given the museum’s upper Manhattan location, it is often ignored by visitors and New Yorkers.  But transportation to the museum is relatively convenient, and the astounding beauty of the artworks and their setting (as well as the lovely park surroundings) make the Cloisters one of New York’s most remarkable museums.

The Cloisters was a gift to New York City by John D. Rockefeller Jr. (the man behind Rockefeller Center). Rockefeller funded the building, the setting in Fort Tryon Park, and the core of the museum’s collection.  We can also thank Rockefeller for the stunning view – he, along with J.P. Morgan, purchased over 12 miles of the New Jersey Palisades to preserve the bucolic vista across the Hudson River.  The museum incorporates actual medieval architectural elements into its structure. The Cloisters opened to the public in 1938.

The Cloisters, NYC

Serene Pontaut Chapter House, remnant of a 12th-century abbey. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Visit the Cloisters

Location: The Cloisters is located in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park (at approximately West 198th Street).

Cloisters Museum map

Map of Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters.

By Subway/Bus: Take the A train to 190th Street and exit the station via elevator.  Walk north along Margaret Corbin Drive through the park for ten to fifteen minutes (just under a half mile).  An alternative to walking – one can transfer to the M4 Bus at the subway exit and ride one stop to the museum entrance.  (On weekdays the bus is scheduled approx. every 10 minutes. Weekends less frequently).

Hours: Open 7 days a week*, 10:00am – 5:15pm. The museum closes at 4:45pm November – February.

*Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25 & January 1

Admission: Suggested donation of $25.00 Adults, $17.00 Seniors, $12.00 Students. Note that “suggested donation” means visitors may “pay-what-you-can” for admission.

Full price tickets can be purchased in advance online.

Museum admission is included for holders of CityPass, The New York Pass, and New York Explorer Pass.

Accessibility – Because of its landmark status, the Cloisters has limited accessibility for visitors with mobility impairments. Check here to learn about the museum’s programs and accommodations for visitors with disabilities.

The Cloisters, NYC

The Fuentidueña Chapel, once the apse of a 12th-century Spanish church, features stunning frescos. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Highlights of The Cloisters

  • Fuentidueña Chapel – Just right of the main entrance, this incredible space is the apse of a twelfth-century Spanish church. Its contains contemporary sculptures from Italy and Spain and a magnificent fresco of Christ hanging above. This hall is the setting for the Cloisters’ wonderful concerts.
  • Langon Chapel – at the end of the Romanesque entrance hall, this chapel is comprised of elements of a twelfth-century French church. It displays dazzling thirteenth-century French stained glass windows and sculpture.
  • Pontaut Chapter House – a wonderful space to relax and muse.  This courtyard from a twelfth-century abbey was once the daily meeting spot for monks. Look for the superb palm tree columns.
The Cloisters, NYC

Illuminated manuscript, one of the masterpieces in the Treasury. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

  • Cuxa Cloister and garden – this twelfth-century cloister from the Pyrenees features a central garden filled with typical medieval plants and a fountain. Be sure to inspect the wild and fanciful capitals on the surrounding columns.
  • Unicorn Tapestries – the star attraction of the museum’s collection, these vibrant, incredibly detailed tapestries depict the hunt and capture of the mythical unicorn.
  • Gothic Chapel – this chapel includes brilliantly colored stained-glass windows from fourteenth-century Austria and carved figures from royal tombs of France and Spain.
  • The Treasury – chocked full of precious objects from medieval churches in gold, silver, ivory, and silk, as well as illuminated manuscripts, jewelry and even a set of fifteenth-century playing cards.
Gothic Chapel, the Cloisters, NYC

The mystical Gothic Chapel includes dazzling stained-glass windows and royal lodgers. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

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