Nestled in the treetops above northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters offer widespread Hudson River Valley vistas where warm golden sunshine awaits you. Come in! Come in!
Completed in 1938 and celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the Cloisters is a beautiful and serene refuge from lower Manhattan. Housing over 5,000 medieval and religious works including stained glass, sculpture and tapestries, along with lush gardens, the actual cloisters were created and built from the architectural elements of five French monasteries dating back to the twelfth through fifteenth century.
There are a few people to thank for the gift of the Cloisters. While
John D. Rockefeller Jr purchased the land and provided endowments to the museum, sculptor George Grey Barnard is responsible for bringing over the many Romanesque and Gothic pieces that have become a large part of the museum’s core collection overall. Joseph Breck, then curator of decorative arts for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later became the director of the Cloisters was pivotal in the cultivation of the continuing collections. And Charles Collens was the visionary architect who designed the current Cloisters from the salvaged pieces of those five French monasteries. It took a lot of energy and imagination to create this masterpiece.
There is a seamless sense of flow between each space: courtyard to walkway to chapel to cloister. Naturally, the center courtyard is the heart of the museum. A covered walkway encircles this magical spot: The original carved peach marble columns are festooned with butterflies and medieval patterns while lemon, lime and orange citrus potted plants and topiaries are lined up in a row. A 15th century marble fountain is filled with pennies and wishes for the present.
A cloister is defined as a monastic establishment, an area within a monastery, abbey or convent to which the religious are normally restricted for both recreation and meditation. A place or state of seclusion. A covered passage on the side of a court usually having one side walled and the other an open arcade or colonnade. Cloisters were frequently found in monastic complexes and religious retreats, the term cloistered came to be associated with being sheltered or kept away from the outside world.
Fragrant jasmine and lavender fill the breezy air and bright orange and yellow poppies are strewn throughout the open Bonnefort Cloister garden. Blooming fruit trees create needed shade along the brick paths. Aside from the aesthetic beauty, this space is a revelation and a recreation of a medieval herbal garden! And you just might find herbs that were used for magic (!), household, medicinal practices, brewing beer, culinary and cooking. All of the herbs and flowers are carefully planted according to horticultural information found in Middle Age books and journals. Currently you may find more flowers and plants straight from the tapestries in the Search for the Unicorn exhibit.
This stunning espaliered pear tree is over 60 years old!
There is an immediate sense of peace and tranquility when entering the grand wooden doors of the Cloisters. Much like a church or chapel, there is silence and calm. The open-air cloisters welcome warmth and nature while providing shelter from the elements. The sun sprinkles new colors on the walkways and the birds provide music in this magical space making it difficult to leave. Visit often and soon. Enjoy!
As of July 1st, the museum will be open seven days a week opening at 10 a.m. each day. Check the schedule for closing times throughout the year.
Subway: Take the A train to the 190th Street stop and exit the station by elevator. Walk north along Margaret Corbin Drive through Fort Tryon Park (there will be plenty of signs directing you to the museum) or transfer to the M4 bus and ride north one stop. (Note: this bus may only run during rush hours – make sure to check the schedule.)
Bus: M4 bus runs directly from Madison Avenue at 83rd Street to the last stop at Fort Tryon Park. (Note: this bus may only run during rush hours – make sure to check the schedule.)
Car: Take Henry Hudson Parkway northbound to the first exit after George Washington Bridge (Fort Tryon Park—The Cloisters). This exit is only accessible from the northbound lane; if coming from the north, take Henry Hudson Parkway southbound to exit 14–15, make a U-turn, and travel north one mile to the exit marked Fort Tryon Park—The Cloisters.
Things to see:
Fort Tryon Park, built by Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead in 1935, offers wonderful views of the Hudson Valley. Enjoy strolling, biking, picnicking and dog runs as well as many gardens. Notably, the Heather garden is one of the largest on the East coast of the United States.
The New Leaf Café is a popular spot within Fort Tryon Park.
Bennett Park, the highest natural park in Manhattan.
Hudson Heights has a small enclave of restaurants and bars at 187st Street between Fort Washington and Cabrini Boulevard