Journey to the Middle Ages
An extraordinary world awaits in Manhattan
The Met Cloisters is situated in Lenapehoking, homeland of the Lenape diaspora, and historically a gathering and trading place for many diverse Native Peoples, who continue to live and work on this island. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, and future—for their ongoing and fundamental relationships to the region.
Atop a tall hill in the northern tip of Manhattan, at the end of long, winding wooded pathways, with stunning views across the Hudson River to the Palisades, and a short walk from the 1 and A subways, you’ll find The Met’s second location, called The Met Cloisters.
During the Middle Ages, cloisters were places to reflect and recharge. This Museum of medieval art takes its cue from these tranquil spaces.
The Museum’s construction began in 1933 in upper Manhattan at the northern end of Fort Tryon Park. Visiting is like traveling through time: medieval architecture is incorporated into a modern building purpose-built to evoke the Middle Ages.
Nowhere else in the United States can you find the combination of such stunning examples of original medieval European architecture, exquisite gardens, and marvelous works of art. Here you’ll discover that the so-called “dark ages” were actually a bright period of innovation, imagination, and creativity.
Linger awhile and explore three paths through The Cloisters. You might even catch a glimpse of a magical creature—the elusive unicorn.
Choose Your Journey:
Time in this place— Jorge Luis Borges, from his poem "The Cloisters" (1981)
does not obey an order.
Building for reflection.
When The Cloisters was built, Europe was on the brink of war and the world was in the middle of a Great Depression. The Cloisters’ builders evoked the time period in which the art was made by incorporating original elements of medieval European monasteries, churches, castles, and other structures into a modern Museum. Today, the Museum still beckons us with the same spirit, a peaceful setting in the city for contemplating art from the Middle ages.
Cloister from Saint-Michel de Cuxa
Each of the Museum’s four cloisters has its own distinct character. Courtyards open to the elements are surrounded by covered walkways that connect to adjacent rooms. The Cuxa Cloister welcomes visitors with its warm pink marble and lively, sometimes-comical sculpted images.
Ensembles of costly tapestries once hung from the walls of castles and aristocratic homes. These colorful woven images populated rooms with figures and vivid stories. Here, several courtly scenes are presented within an architectural framework teeming with characters both sacred and profane.
One of the defining artistic inventions of the Middle Ages, stained-glass windows saturate interior spaces with color. At The Cloisters, you can bask in the natural light that spills through these colored windows, just like in the 15th century.
Doorway from Moutiers-Saint-Jean
Church doorways decorated with sculptures were a major medieval innovation, transitioning people from the bustling outside world to the sanctuary within. As medieval monks passed through this portal from Burgundy, France, imposing images of kings and Mary, Queen of Heaven, welcomed them into the sacred interior.
If those who come under the influence of this place go out to face life with a new courage and restored faith … those who have builded here will not have built in vain.— John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s remarks on The Cloisters’ opening (1938)
Nature—the finest form of creation.
Medieval artists took inspiration from the natural world. Gardeners at The Cloisters cultivate a living collection, allowing visitors to connect with the seasonal rhythms that define daily life. Featuring plants and herbs grown for pleasure, nourishment, medicine, artists’ materials, and even magic, The Cloisters’ several gardens engage all of the senses as a means of understanding medieval minds and beliefs.
Fort Tryon Park: The Adventurer’s Park
Traversing the highest natural point in Manhattan, these meandering paths and scenic views are situated in Lenapehoking, homeland of the Lenape diaspora, and once witnessed battles of the American Revolution. The famous Heather and Alpine Gardens, designed by the Olmsted brothers, change with the seasons.
Judy Black Garden: The Garden of Paradise
These enclosed grounds with a central fountain recall medieval pleasure gardens. Each flowering plant was chosen for its beauty and fragrance. In fact, this vision of paradise sets the entire Museum’s tone: it brings nature’s beauty front and center while providing space for retreat and reflection.
“Bonnefont” Cloister Garden: The Teaching Garden
With a terrace overlooking the Hudson River, this cloister produces herbs and plants found in medieval gardens, organized by their artistic, culinary, medicinal, and even magical uses. It contains many of the approximately 300 different plant species that the Museum cultivates based on medieval sources.
Trie Cloister Garden: A Fantasy Garden
Enter the realm of the unicorn, where a flowering meadow blooms in seemingly eternal spring. The tall, cascading fountain surrounded by colorful plantings makes the Unicorn Tapestries come to life. This garden grows many plants depicted in the tapestries around a central fountain.
The four elements— Saint Hildegard of Bingen, 12th-century philosopher
hold the world together.
Discover the universal element behind the artworks below.
This rare manuscript depicts dozens of earthly flowers, their vibrant beauty serving as a silent muse for the artist. Each flower painted here can be found in the Museum’s gardens, including the humble dandelion, now often dismissed as a weed.
Book of Flower Studies
Handwashing was as important in the Middle Ages as it is today. This type of vessel is called an aquamanilia, from the Latin words for water (aqua) and hand (manus). This noble lion was brought out at ceremonies and banquets for guests to wash their hands.
Aquamanile in the Form of a Lion
Music was a key element in medieval life—as one of the seven liberal arts, it was even a standard school subject. Here, a musician from an angelic orchestra is surrounded by enameled panels imitating stained glass. Wind instruments, like the angel’s shawm, made art out of thin air.
Reliquary Shrine of the Poor Clares
Art elevates your spirit.
Artists make ordinary objects extraordinary, reflecting the wonderous world they live in. Medieval makers imagined new sensory experiences, using music, incense, and light to activate their works. Their immersive approaches to storytelling resonate across time—even in the 21st century, medieval art encourages us to marvel at life.
The Story of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Tapestries are among the most arresting artworks from the Middle Ages. In seven woven panels, they tell the story of a quest to capture a magical creature.
A Hunt Awaits:
You go to The Cloisters to be exposed to ideas. The great chain of being is exposed there.— Martha Rosler, contemporary artist
Our story doesn’t have to end …
There’s so much more to explore at The Met Cloisters, where an entire medieval world awaits.
For more than 80 years, the Museum’s architecture, gardens, and art have offered respite from the city’s swift tempo. Whether you’re a local yearning for a day trip or a sojourner from afar, The Met Cloisters dazzles with precious treasures and invites us all to reflect within its peaceful gardens.
Continue your journey online or come to the Museum in person to explore a unique, bygone world full of triumphs of medieval imagination.
Have you ever read the classic children’s book Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina? The story is based on a folktale that goes back centuries, and you can find a version of it decorating one of our favorite objects, the Monkey Cup.
While The Cloisters is home to many large works of art, it’s also full of small surprises. Among the many tiny treasures, don’t miss the intricate boxwood carvings that place the world in the palm of your hand!
This enchanting retreat is not located at The Met Fifth Avenue, but nearby in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Via subway, The Met Cloisters is just a short walk away from the 1 and A trains at Dyckman Street station. Alternatively, the M4 bus or a car will take you all the way there.
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The Primer is made possible by
and the Director's Fund.