Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 10, 2018

The most beautiful cloister in Italy?

When, in 1739, Abbess Ippolita Carmignani asked architect Dominico Vaccaro to create a cloistered garden suited to “the decorum of noble ladies” for the church of Santa Chiara in Naples, she was probably a little surprised by the result.

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Vaccaro must have been inspired by the dazzling sun and vibrant colours of the city. He chose a geometric design for the garden and filled it with glorious pillars and benches decorated with earthenware tiles, known locally as majolica.

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Vines, lemons, oranges and figs climb up the pillars reflecting the plants in the garden.

Santa Chiara cloister

The bench panels depict every day rural life in the 1700s in vivid colours.

Santa Chiara cloister

The corridors are lined with frescoes.

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

The low walls on the other side are tiled.

Santa Chiara cloister

We were lucky to be there in spring when the garden was looking lovely.

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

Santa Chiara cloister

The Santa Chiara nuns lived in seclusion which meant that few people ever saw the beautiful cloister. In 1924 the nuns swapped convents with the nearby Franciscan friars who led less restricted lives. The Friars gradually invited philosophers and intellectuals into their garden and finally, in the 1970s, the public was allowed access.

There is a museum beside the cloister and the ruins of a Roman Thermal Bath Complex, both of which are excellent.

On the way out of the cloister is an enormous nativity scene. It is part of a series of nativity scenes created in Naples in the 18th century during the reign of Ferdinand VI of Bourbon. It is made from papier-mâché, cork, wood and fabric. The heads and limbs of the figures are terracotta.

It is behind glass, so there is some reflection in the photos.

Santa Chiara

The cloister is behind the Santa Chiara church. Look on the website for the opening hours as there is no sign on the outside to inform the public. (There is a handy sign on the inside, which you can see when the cloister is open)



  1. Debra,

    Such a beautiful place! Thank you for sharing it. With your penchant for finding such lovely scenes, I thought I would recommend one for you that you might not have found yet. The next time you are in Palermo, Sicilia, look into the Church of the Martorana in (about) the central part of the city. My mother’s ancestry is Sicilian and my grandmother’s maiden name was Martorana. The church has amazing Byzantine era mosaics and is still in use today. I know it may be a while before you get back to Sicilia, but enjoy this wonder when you do!


    • Thank you for the tip. We will definitely return to Sicily and visit Palermo. We were nearby on our visit, but a howling wind arrived and we could barely stand up so we cut our trip a little short.

  2. Once more congratulations Debra. You and your camera should be declared Living National Treasures. You never fail to surprise and delight with your photographic gifts to your reader/viewers. thank you. Kevin Palmer

    • This cloister is heavenly. I wish I could have it beside Casa Debbio. I do have the lavender and wisteria, but just love those pillars and benches.

  3. How absolutely lovely Debra – on the revisit Naples list

    • We got in on our third attempt. A sign with opening times would be a good idea.

  4. Such a stunning piece of architecture. Begs the question, why did the nuns swap their residence?

    • I have no idea, but I’m pleased they did.

  5. Absolutely exquisite !! I spied Jim in quiet contemplation!!! Wonder what he was thinking?🤣 Your photos are fabulous and I look forward to seeing you soon…Jx

    • Probably think how much weeding would need to be done.

  6. Such an amazing place, Deb! I’m in awe of Vaccaro’s work in those beautiful tile details. It’s wonderful that the public can now benefit from these gorgeous surroundings that the nuns and monks and ‘ladies of decorum’ once enjoyed. Your sharing the history makes your excellent photos so interesting! Looking forward to your next adventure…..

    • This is a stunning place, great for quiet contemplation.

  7. Oh! what a beautiful building. Lovely photos Deb.

    • Isn’t it lovely? I would love some of these features in my garden.

  8. If it isn’t the most beautiful, it certainly is amongst the most beautiful and your photos do it justice! For me, it’s the color that puts it over the top. The yellow is happy.

    • It is a riot of colour, which makes it a bit odd for a reclusive order of nuns, but it must have been a lovely place for their quiet contemplation.

  9. Amazing, that an Abbess was allowed back than to create such a beautiful. architectural designed garden. It seems to be a serene and calming place.

    • It is amazing, not what you expect from a cloister.

  10. It is certainly a beautiful and most unusual cloister. Thank you for sharing it.

    • I love it. I want one at Casa Debbio.


    • It is a beautiful place George. Something else to add to your list.

  12. What a delightful place! We will definitely try to visit here on our next visit to Naples in the near future. Wonderful to see it in primavera though!

    • The cloister is wonderful. I hope you make it there.

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