As a newcomer living in New York some 45 years ago, the city seemed like like an alluring, unknown wonderland, and I felt like an explorer ever ready for a new adventure. And so, one weekend day, a friend and I set out for The Cloisters, not knowing what to expect. What I found was a series of ancient-feeling rooms filled with medieval art, and set in a park on river bluffs high above the Hudson. It was magical, and I made a promise to myself to someday return. Last week, I finally did. And on a chilly, blindingly-white and amazingly clear day, it was magical all over again.
I didn’t know much about medieval art then, and I don’t now, but you don’t need to know a lot to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the centuries-old sculptures, stained glass windows, tapestries, carvings, architectural elements and religious objects on display. To visit The Cloisters is like taking a condensed tour through medieval France, Italy and Spain, with a bit of the Netherlands added in. Last week, it was empty enough that one could have a chapel all to oneself to sit and meditate, a wonderful luxury in a city like New York.
So, if you find yourself in New York with a half day free, take the A train (yes the same train which famously goes to Harlem) nearly to the tip of Manhattan, exit at 190th Street, and step into another world.
There’s a bus from the subway to The Cloisters, but walking up the hill through Fort Tryon Park, with great views of the Hudson River (below), to my mind, enhances the experience.
One of several chapels.
The Unicorn in Captivity (South Netherlands, 1495-1505). This tapestry has become probably the most well known and loved work of art in The Cloisters collection.
This, of course, is not part of the Cloisters, but will be part of your experience if you do take the A train to the 190th Street station. And I urge you to ride the subways in New York. It’s a great way to get up close to New Yorkers and experience the city the way most of them do. I know the system seems a bit daunting, and the stations are not the most beautiful, but for distances too far to walk, it is generally the quickest and cheapest way to get around the city.