I love Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan. It is one of the most beautiful parks in New York City. It is a park of rolling hills, stone paths that hug the hills, interesting garden that are ablaze when in season, shady tree sitting areas and is home to many playgrounds and the Cloisters Museum which is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has so much to offer a visitor coming into Manhattan from exploring the woods that line the path to looking at interesting art at the museum. This 67 acre park is one of the interesting and complex in New York City.
A city view of the beauty of the park by the Hudson River
When you enter the park from Inwood by Broadway, you enter through Ann Loftus Park which is named after a local community leader and is one of the popular parks with kids and families in the area. In the summer months, the fountains and water fixtures are going strong and the kids run around them while the parents lie under shade trees talking to one another.
When taking the path from Ann Loftus Park and winding up the hills of woods and rock formations is the Hudson River looming in the distance with spectacular views of the Palisades and the large cliffs of Fort Lee, NJ on the other side.
At the top of hill like a crown jewel is the Medieval Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Museum. Filled with all the Met’s collections of Religious and Medieval art set into themes of old churches, stained glass windows, flowered courtyards and vistas of the river, it is the perfect place to wonder around.
As you pass the Cloisters and walk further in to the park, there is still so much more to see and do. The Linden Terrace overlooks the Hudson River with its large shade trees over head and its stone benches to sit and just look in the distance or read a book. This was the site of the original Fort Tryon and is the highest location in the park.
Linden Terrace is a nice place to relax and read a book
Further down in the other entrance of the park is Heather Garden, a large path of flowers , bushes and trees with benches lining it. The garden was the Olmstead Brothers when the park was taking shape and is a beautiful place to walk in the Spring and Summer months when the park is in full bloom.
The Heather Garden was recently remodeled to follow the original design by the Olmstead Brothers.
There is even a terrace restaurant in the middle of the park, the New Leaf Cafe (See review on TripAdvisor-Closed in 2018) which sits off to the side of the Corbin Circle on the other side of the park. The food is over-rated and very expensive. The last time I ate there the menu was pretty standard. It is a great to take out of towners who want a view of something. It is not worth the trip. The views are nice and in the summer months it is pretty but the food and service are standard.
The New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tyron Park (Closed in 2018)
The park has so much to offer in all months of the year especially in the Spring and Summer.
History of Fort Tryon Park:
The area was known by the local Lenape Indians as Chquaesgeck and by the Dutch settlers as Lange Bergh (Long Hill). During the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Fort Washington was fought on this site. The park is built on a high formation of Manhattan schist with igneous intrusions and glacial striations from the last Ice Age (Wiki).
John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought up most the land in 1917, which by that point had been old estates, to create Fort Tryon Park. He hired the Olmstead Brothers firm, under the direction of Fredrick Law Olmstead Jr., the son of the designer of Central Park, to design the park and James W. Dawson to create a planting plan. Mr. Rockefeller also bought the collection of Medieval art from sculptor George Gray Barnard and it was the cornerstone of The Cloisters Museum which was built in 1939 (Wiki).
Through the years the park has seen its ups and downs especially in the 1970’s and 80’s with the decline of finances in New York City. There were extensive renovations when finances got better in the late 90’s and parts of the park were fully renovated. The Fort Tyron Park Trust, a non-profit organization was founded in 1998 to help maintain the park (Wiki).
The entrance of the Cloisters for the “Holiday Decorating at The Cloisters” exhibition and talk
I go to The Cloisters on a pretty regular basis, and they have interesting walking tours and lectures especially in the warm months. If you like Medieval or religious art, this is a museum that is worth visiting. It is out of the way and be prepared to walk up a hill but in the summer months, the view of the Hudson River is spectacular, and the gardens are beautiful.
The Cloisters in Fort Tyron Park
Don’t miss the walking tours and gallery talks at the museum. I have recently been to a series of walking gallery talks dealing with the history of Medieval arts. There were discussions on Medieval art between Christian and Muslim religions, Traveling the Silk Road and its influences on art in the regions and the collection and how it has improved and grown over the years. It seems there has been a uptick in this type of art.
This section of the shine is on a permanent loan from Spain
The building is just beautiful as it was created from pieces of religious sites all over Europe. Many of the doorways, cloisters (archways), stone work and fountains and windows come from churches that had been destroyed by wars over the past 600 years. Bits and pieces of all of the these buildings are displayed in the architecture of the museum itself. Some are on permanent loan to the museum from foreign countries.
Don’t miss the famous “Hunt of the Unicorn” tapestries that are on display here. They are quite a spectacular exhibit.
The ‘Hunt of the Unicorn’ tapestries
Be sure to visit the outside terraces of the Cloisters to see the views of the Hudson River below and the beautiful gardens of Fort Tyron Park where the building is located. It is a sea of green lawns and woods and beautifully landscaped flowering paths.
The Cloisters Gardens in the winter of 2022
The view from the gardens of the Hudson River
There is a nice café on property but there is also a nice outdoor café in the park as well as a small restaurant row on Dyckman Avenue at the foot of the park right near the subway stop. There are also many terrific Spanish restaurants on Dyckman Street as you walk down the block towards Fort George Hill.
‘Christmastide’ at The Cloisters:
I recently went to the Cloisters for a very interesting walking tour called “Holly & Hawthorne: Decorating for a Medieval Christmas” in 2019 and a similar tour in 2022 entitled “Holiday Decorations at The Cloisters” the use of plants like holly, mistletoe, pine and ivy were used in the winter months to decorate the churches and homes of the people until the Puritan influences took over.
(Part of the description of the tour in the guidebook-credit to the Met Cloisters):
“The wreaths and garlands that deck The Cloisters from early December until early January are made from plant stuffs associated with the Medieval celebration of Christmastide. This great feast embraced the twelve days between the Nativity and the Epiphany, which commemorated the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus.
Because pictorial representation of medieval Christmas decorations are rare, the Museum’s designs are based on evidence gleaned from carols, wassails, romances and artworks. Medieval churches and halls were decked for the season, a practice with roots in ancient custom. The early Church had banned the use of evergreens because of their ties with pagan winter festivals, such as the Roman Saturnalia. By the Middle Ages, these plants had been given Christian interpretations and were used to celebrate the feast days of the Church calendar. Bay Laurel, associated in ancient times with victory, became a symbol of the triumph of Christ and of eternal life.
By the Middle Ages, holly and ivy had been thoroughly Christianized, although mistletoe remained suspect. Ivy was identified with the Virgin and the red berries of the holly with the blood of Christ. The holly and ivy carols still sung today spell out these meanings older associations derived from pre-Christian winter festivals.
Apples and nuts, stored for winter consumption, were a conspicuous part of the Christmas feast, as they are today. It was also the custom in winter to wassail fruit and nut trees, to encourage them to bear plentiful crops in the coming year. Fruits and nuts were ancient symbols of fertility Christian meanings; in a medieval poem on the Nativity.
The Cloisters decorated for Medieval Christmas
The tour guide discussed by touring the paintings and tapestries where these symbolic plants took shape during this time. She even explained how ivy when it reaches sunlight that its shape goes from a three leaf shape to a heart shape which was symbolic during the Middle Ages. The gardens were a good source of inspiration for the holidays.
The stonework was decorated with garland and holly and flowering plants
The Cloisters decorated for Christmas
Don’t miss walking the halls and cloisters to look at all the decorations for the holidays. The museum keeps them simple and elegant but it really does put you in the holiday spirit.
The flowers and pine when you enter The Cloisters
The “Holiday Decorations at The Cloisters” walking tour: December 2022:
The altar at The Cloisters
The Medieval plants for decorating the church including Bay Laurel, Myrtle, Rosemary and Cyclamen.
The flowers decorating the windows. Roses and pine.
Decorated altar candles
Decorated Altar Candles
Decorated Altar Candles
The Fruits and Ivy that decorate the archways at The Cloisters is changed regularly
The Christmas wreaths were decorated with fruits, ivy and pinecones
Along the walls and floors of The Cloisters were potted plants that would have been used to decorate churches during this time period. The flowering plants gave The Cloister such a nice smell and would have lighted up the inside rooms from the gloom of winter.
The hallways were lined with winter greens
The winter greens that lined the hallways of The Cloisters
The decorative winter greens lining the walls of The Cloisters
The tour guide also pointed out for the story of Christmas depictions of the three wise men in art all over the building and its importance in the holiday season. The story continued to develop on the three ‘kings’ who visited the holy child. She explained that over the years it went from three ‘visitors’wisemen’ that was loosely translated in older text to the modern development of ‘three kings’ from the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe.
The three Wise Men and the Virgin Mary
The three Wise Men and the Virgin Mary and Child as depicted in the painting
The three Wise Men in a more modern depiction
The Virgin Mary with the Christ child and the three wise men
The tour guide went onto explain that in more elaborate feasts, the utensils and items used during ceremonies would have been of the most elaborate that the church could show.
Elaborate vessels. plates, challices and specters used in ceremonies
Elaborate drinking glasses
Spain 1000-1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith” tour in 2021:
I visited again this Christmas holiday season in 2021 to see “Spain 1000-1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith”, where the Catholic and Muslim Kingdoms of Spain influenced each other in the manner of decoration and art borrowing from each other. It was interesting to see how the two communities used each other’s art over time to develop an interesting hybrid of design that was both colorful and intricate.
“Spain 1000-1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith” artworks
Another tour of the Cloisters that I attended was on the ‘Four Medieval Flowers: The Lily, Iris, Violet and Rose’. It was interesting how society of this era used the former Pagan and Roman/Greek symbols in their Christian religious art.
You see the Rose in the stained glass to represent strength and honor
You will see the meanings in the tapestries, stained glass art and in the sculpture to represent purity, rebirth and sexual symbols of the time. It seemed that the artisans of the time used ancient meanings to convey something that they could not out and out talk about.
In the “Hunt of the Unicorn” Tapestries you can see flowers such as Lilly, Violet and Iris woven into the work which may have meant it was a wedding present to the new owner. The tour guide said there was meaning in lots of the works which may have had a different purpose originally. It was a tour steeped in symbolism.
These walking tours at the Cloisters happen at 12:00pm and 2:00pm on the weekends when in season.
The Cloisters Mission:
Welcome to The Cloisters, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Set on a hilltop with commanding views of the Hudson River. The Cloisters is designed in a style evocative of medieval architecture specifically for the display of masterpiece created during that era. Arranged roughly chronologically and featuring works primarily from Western Europe, the collection includes sculpture, stained glass, tapestries, painting, manuscript illumination and metalwork. The extensive gardens feature medieval plantings, enhancing the evocative environment.
The Gardens at the Cloisters in bloom
History of the Museum
John D. Rockefeller Jr. generously provided for the building, the setting in Fort Tryon Park and the acquisition of the notable George Grey Barnard Collection, the nucleus of The Cloisters collection. Barnard Collection, the nucleus of The Cloisters collection. Barnard, an American sculptor whose work can be seen in the American Wing of the Metropolitan, traveled extensively in France, where he purchased medieval sculpture and architectural elements often from descendants of citizens who had appropriated objects abandoned during the French Revolution. The architect Charles Collens incorporated these medieval elements into the fabric of The Cloisters, which opened to the public in 1938.
Imposing stone portals from French churches of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries open onto a gallery that features rare Spanish frescoes and French sculpture.
The twelfth-century apse from the church of San Martin at Fuentiduena, Spain and the great contemporary fresco of Christ in Majesty from a church in the Pyrenees Mountains dominate the space. Sculpture from Italy and Spain enriches the chapel, which is the setting for a celebrated concert series.
The fine carving of this cloister from the monastery of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, near Montpellier, harmoniously and playfully adapts the forms of Roman sculpture in a medieval context. The plants depicted in the sculpture, acanthus and palm, are growing in pots near the small fountain. The gallery also features early sculpture from Italy, Islamic Spain and elsewhere in France.
Architectural elements from the twelfth-century church of Notre-Dame-du-Bourg at Langon near Bordeaux form the setting for the display of thirteenth-century French stained glass and important Burgundian sculpture in wood and stone.
Pontaut Chapter House
Monks from the Cistercian abbey at Pontaut in Aquitaine once gathered for daily meetings in this twelfth-century enclosure known as a chapter house. At the time of its purchase in the 1930’s by a Parisian dealer, the column supports were being used to tether farm animals.
Cuxa Cloister and Garden
The distinctive pink stone of this cloister, featuring capitals carved with wild and fanciful creatures, was quarried in the twelfth century near Canigou in the Pyrenees Mountains for the nearby Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa. The typical cloister garden features crossed paths and a central fountain from the neighboring monastery of Saint-Genis-des-Fountaines. Both medieval and modern species of plants are grown in the garden. In winter, the arcades are enclosed and fragrant potted plants fill the walkways.
Early Gothic Hall
With thirteenth-century windows overlooking the Hudson River, the gallery features stained glass from France’s great churches, including Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris. Sculptures and paintings from France, Italy and Spain evoke the great age of cathedrals.
Nine Heroes Tapestries Room
From an original series of nine hangings created about 1400 for a member of the Valois court, the tapestries portray fabled heroes of ancient, Hebrew and Christian history, including the legendary King Arthur. It is among the earliest sets of surviving medieval tapestries.
Unicorn Tapestries Room
With brilliant colors, beautiful landscapes and precise depictions of flora and fauna, these renowned tapestries depicting the hunt and capture of the mythical unicorn are among the most studied and beloved objects at The Cloisters. Probably designed in Paris and woven in Brussels about 1500 for an unknown patron, these hangings blend the secular and sacred worlds of the Middle Ages.
Stained glass from the fifteenth-century Camelite convent at Boppard-am-Rhein dominates one end of the room. Fifteenth-century panel paintings and sculpture from the Rhineland and northern Spain, a brass lectern, domestic furniture, Spanish lusterware, tapestries, metalwork and sculpture further evoke a sacred space.
One of the most celebrated early Netherlandish paintings in the world, the Merode Altarpiece, painted in Tournai about 1425-30, forms the centerpiece of this gallery. The altarpiece, intended for the private prayers of its owners, represents the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary taking place in a fifteenth-century household. Details of the scene are echoed in the late medieval furnishings of the room in which other works made for private devotion are also exhibited.
Late Gothic Hall
Large fifteenth-century limestone windows from the refectory of the former Dominican monastery in Sens, France, illuminate the hall, which showcases sculpture and altarpieces from Germany, Italy and Spain as well as a great tapestry from Burgos Cathedral.
Beneath richly colored stained-glass windows from fourteenth-century Austria carved images from royal and noble tombs of France and Spain fill the chapel-like setting.
Silver-stained glass roundels decorate the windows of the Glass Gallery, complementing small works of art, many made for secular use, with their lively, sometimes worldly subjects. Carved woodwork from a house in Abbeville, in northern France, forms a backdrop for paintings and sculpture.
“Bonnefont” Cloister and Garden
Long thought to be part of the abbey at Bonnefont-en-Comminges, the elements of this cloister come instead from other monasteries in the region including a destroyed monastery in Tarbes. The herb garden contains more than 250 species cultivated in the Middle Ages. Its raised beds, wattle fences and central wellhead are characteristic of a medieval monastic garden.
Trie Cloister and Garden
The stone cloister elements were created primarily for the Carmelite convert at Trie-sur-Baise in the Pyrenees. The garden is planted with medieval species to evoke the millefleurs background of medieval tapestries, such as the Unicorn series.
An array of precious objects in gold, silver, ivory and silk reflects the wealth of medieval churches. Illuminated manuscripts testify to the piety and taste of royal patrons such as Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France; jewelry and a complete set of fifteenth-century playing cards suggest more worldly pastimes.
The Gift Shop:
Even the gift shop was decked in the holiday spirit
The gift shop has all sorts of themed items from the Medieval era.
The gift shop at The Cloisters
*Disclaimer: This information is taken right from the Cloisters pamphlet from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Please call the museum before visiting to see if anything has changed with the hours or days open. It is well worth the trip uptown to visit The Cloisters. Take the A subway up to 190th Street and take the elevator up to Fort Tryon Park and walk across the park.