San Martino and Sant' Elmo Castle

Wherever you are in Napoli, from the port to the centro storico or flying over the city in an aeroplane, you can spot the San Martino complex and the St Elmo Castle dominating the city from the hill of Vomero.  They are special places for me, because they are located not far from where I live and very often I used to go there and enjoy the stunning view.  Centuries before in 1325, Charles of Anjou, also liked this area and called it First Sant' Erasmo hill, where he established a fortress taking advantage of its strategic position overlooking the city.  After the Anjou, the viceroy don Pedro de Toledo enlarged the complex and the castle giving them all the splendour we see today.

Entrance of the convent and museum.

Entrance of the convent and museum.

SAN MARTINO is the monastery complex considered one of the most important and beautiful expressions of the history of Napoli.  Formed today of the main church, museums and cloisters, it was consecrated in 1368, during the reign of queen Joanna I.  During the 1500s, the complex was enlarged and modified, with many important artists working on it.  The florentine architect Giovanni Antonio Dosio worked on the church between 1589 and 1609 hiding any traces of the previous medieval church, of which only part of the entrance remains.  In 1623 Cosimo Fanzago finished the church in the Baroque style working on the internal decorations, putting a lot of his artistic personality into the splendid multicoloured marble, the elegant side chapels and the garlands and flowers in marble on the pillars.

The church.

The church.

 

The gothic cross vault covered with the impressive frescos by Giovanni Lanfranco (1637-1639) depicts Christ in Glory with Angels and Saints.  The eight chapels on the side are all richly decorated with frescoes, canvases, sculptures, stuccos, and marble, executed by great artists of the 17th and 18th centuries like Battistello Caracciolo, Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, Giuseppe Sanmartino (sculptor of the magnificent breathtaking Veiled Christ in the Cappella Sansevero), Guido Reni, Massimo Stanzione, Jusepe de Ribera and Luca Giordano (his frescoes are in the vault of the Sacristy).

The entrance to the complex is on the right side of the little church called Delle Donne, 'church of the women' who weren't allowed to enter into the monks monastery.  During the years of the french revolution, the monks were sent away from the complex but they returned in 1836 but were then expelled for good in 1866. 

 

Baroque style of the church.

Baroque style of the church.

The Sacristy.

The Sacristy.

The Sacristy.

The Sacristy.

Great Cloister with the Cemetery of the Monks.

Great Cloister with the Cemetery of the Monks.

The Royal Carriages Hall.

The Royal Carriages Hall.

Naval section of the Museum.

Naval section of the Museum.

Along the side of the church, there is the Great Cloister created by the architect Dosio, who also worked on the cistern for the complex, a work of fine hydraulic engineering to obtain drinking water.  In the Great Cloister, there is the wonderful Cemetery of the Monks.  Here Cosimo Fanzago converted the graveyard, surrounded by a balustrade with marble skulls into a peaceful funerary yard.  

Around the cloister, all the monks cells have been modified to house the Museum of San Martino, with a vast and ancient collection of relics of the city, and the Prior apartments which houses the paintings and statues from the church.  From here there is the elegant Royal Carriages Hall, which houses lavish late baroque carriages, and the Naval section, with the impressive collection of royal boats and ships.  From here there is the panoramic loggia of the Belvedere, with a breath taking view of the city.  A spiral staircase leads to the Prior gardens.  Noteworthy is the decorative art section of the Orilia collection (named after its donator) which contains the elegant 18th century porcelain from Capodimonte, the library, and the hall with over 8000 prints and drawings and the Neapolitan theatre history section.  

 

The old kitchens of the monastery now house the permanent exhibition of Presepi, the nativity scenes which are a typical and ancient tradition in the Neapolitan culture, that in San Martino reaches a high form of art in the incredible Presepe Cuciniello, dated 1878 and named after the collector who donated his huge collection of miniature people, angels and animals.  This Presepe is unique not only for its artistic beauty but also for its sophistication, purposely built in a cave and enhanced by light effects that re-create sunrise, daytime, dusk and night-time.

The Presepe Cuciniello.

The Presepe Cuciniello.

Details of the collection of Presepe's objects.

Details of the collection of Presepe's objects.

View from the gardens of the convent.

View from the gardens of the convent.

CASTEL SANT ELMO is the imposing fortress on the peak of Vomero hill.  Originally the fortified residence of Robert of Anjou built in 1329 and then enlarged by the viceroy don Pedro de Toledo in 1537.  The castle is built of volcanic tufa and layout of the fort is a six pointed star, called double tenaille, with symmetric projections and recesses, overlooking the city in every direction.  Above the entrance gate is the Charles V coat of arms and the two-headed Imperial eagle.  Thanks to its strategic position, Sant' Elmo has always been an important fortress for Napoli.  In 1587 the he castle was struck by lightning, and exploded the munitions depot, destroying the church, the chaplain's house and the officers' quarters.  The fort has had successive rebuildings over the years, although it still retains its original structure.In 1799, during the uprising against the Bourbon kings, french troops occupied the fortress.  After the Unification of Italy, the castle became a military prison and since WWII it has housed radio installations.  

Today in the castle there are the offices of the cultural heritage department of Campagnia, the Molajoli Library of Art History and the Centre for Documentation and Archives.  On top is the Modern Art Gallery.  The castle also houses many cultural events, like concerts, exhibitions, films and conferences.

 

Certosa e Museo di San Martino

Official website: Certosa di San Martino

Largo S. Martino 5 - 80129 Napoli

Tel.: 848 800 288 / +39 06 399 67 050  
Email:  pm-cam.urp.edu@beniculturali.it

Tickets:  € 6  / Concessions € 3 / Free entry for under 18

Free entry every first Sunday of the month.

Opening hours:  Mon - Sun 08.30 - 19.30.  Last entry 18.30

Closed on Wednesdays.

 

Castel Sant' Elmo

Official website: Castel Sant' Elmo

Via Tito Angelini 22 - 80129 Napoli

Tel.: 848 800 288 / +39 06 399 67 050  
Email:  pm-cam.urp.edu@beniculturali.it

Tickets:  € 5 / Concession: € 2,50 / Tuesdays € 2,50 / Free entry for under 18

Free entry every first Sunday of the month.

Opening hours: Mon - Sun 08.30 - 19.30.  Last entry 18.30

Twentieth century arts in Napoli Museum: Mon - Sun 09.30 - 17.00.  Last entry 16.15.  This museum is closed on Tuesdays.

Nearest metro station: Linea 1 VANVITELLI or the Montesanto funicular MORGHEN or Central funicular PIAZZA FUGA or Chiaia funicular CIMAROSA.