Medieval Manhattan? The Cloisters

The Cloisters, New YorkLiving in Europe, when friends and colleagues ask me what to see on their visit to New York, I always get the odd look when I say to spend part of one day exploring ‘medieval Manhattan’.

As Europeans know all too well, American history is remarkably short. But money can buy almost anything, as the American Robber Barons proved.

New York houses an impressive medieval art collection – in its very own abbey. Better yet, it’s in a part of Manhattan that most tourists never see.

The Cloisters is the medieval art collection of the more well-visited Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”).

The Cloisters, New YorkPurchasing a ticket to the Met provides you with access to the museum’s famous main structure on Park Avenue, on the edge of Central Park.

But the same ticket also gets you access to the spectacular medieval collection in Fort Tyron Park, Washington Heights/Inwood- Manhattan’s northernmost point. A bus runs between the two museums. The subway also arrives nearby.

Cloisters, New YorkMany of the so-called Robber Barons (the American industrialists who amassed their vast fortunes following the American Civil War) were often collectors of European art, and, fortunately for us, philanthropists. Many bought up not only medieval art, but medieval structures themselves.

The Cloisters Museum is filled with real European cloisters – five in all, originally from France and northern Spain.

The cloisters were bought up by wealthy American collectors, shipped over to America, and reassembled at the Cloisters Museum (established on land donated by the Rockefeller family).

Cloisters, Met, New YorkThe collection is impressive as well. The highlight is definitely the series of unicorn tapistries weaved in Belgium in the 15th century. You’ll want to spend a lot of time in this spectacular hall.

If you’re visiting in the summertime, you’ll also enjoy visiting the medieval garden – planted with medicinal herbs in use at the time.

Like the rest of the Met (if you can’t tell, I’m a proud member), the Museum has an excellent programme of guided tours and activities for children.

Don’t miss this unique museum on your next visit to (medieval) Manhattan.

Cloisters, New York


  1. Catherine on January 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    I remember going here on my one and only trip to Manhattan? Why?! When I was on my way to Paris? I think I was suffering from a medieval madness at the time..

    • kimberlysullivan on January 8, 2015 at 8:29 am

      Wow, needed a dose of medieval art and architecture before moving to Paris, eh? : ) But it is impressive seeing the peaceful cloisters in Manhattan. And I adore the unicorn tapistries. I always get back to see them.

  2. evelyneholingue on January 7, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Love how you wrote that money can buy anything. This blog post reminds me of the Getty Villa in LA. Same story. Money and a genuine desire to share these monuments and their history. Enjoy NYC, Kimberly.

    • kimberlysullivan on January 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

      I love this period in American history, and reading about the robber barons and how they acquired their wealth. But despite the greed at this time of American economic expansion, I am impressed at the genuine sense of philanthropy. So many of our great museums, art collections, universities, opera houses are thanks to their desire to give back to the communities. If you haven’t been to the Cloisters yet, you’d love it, Evelyne. Lots of treasures from your country.

  3. papershots on January 12, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    when i read medieval manhattan, i thought you were going to talk about San Gimignano in Tuscany… haha 🙂

    • kimberlysullivan on January 13, 2015 at 9:11 am

      True. The skyscrapers of the medieval world. Love San Gimignano.

      • papershots on January 13, 2015 at 10:29 am

        maybe your next article? 😉

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