The Certosa di Pavia is a monastery complex built in 1396-1495. It was once located on the border of a large hunting park belonging to the Visconti family of Milan, of which today only scattered parts remain. It is one of the largest monasteries in Italy.

Certosa is the Italian name for a house of the cloistered monastic order of Carthusians founded by St. Bruno in 1044 at Grande Chartreuse. Though the Carthusians in their early centuries were known for their seclusion and asceticism and the plainness of their architecture, the Certosa is renowned for the exuberance of its architecture, in both the Gothic and Renaissance styles, and for its collection of artworks which are particularly representative of the region.

Gian Galeazzo Visconti, hereditary lord and first Duke of Milan, commissioned the building of the Certosa to the architect Marco Solari, inaugurating the works and laying the foundation stone on August 27, 1396, as recorded by a bas-relief on the facade. The location was strategically chosen midway between Milan and Pavia, the second city of the Duchy, where the Duke held his court.

The church, the last edifice of the complex to be built, was to be the family mausoleum of the Visconti. It was designed as a grand structure with a nave and two aisles, a type unusual for the Carthusian Order. The nave, in the Gothic style, was completed in 1465.

However, since the foundation, the Renaissance had spread in Italy, and the rest of the edifice was built according to the new style, redesigned by Giovanni Solari continued by his son Guiniforte Solari and including some new cloisters. Solari was followed as director of the works by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, (1481-1499). The church was consecrated on May 3, 1497. The lower part of the façade was not completed until 1507.

The construction contract obliged the monks to use part of the revenue of the lands held in benefice to the monastery to continue to improve the edifice. Consequently, the Certosa includes a huge collection of artworks of all centuries from the 15th to the 18th.

In 1782, the Carthusians were expelled by the Emperor Joseph II of Austria, and were succeeded at the Certosa by the Cistercians in 1784 and then by the Carmelites in 1789. In 1810 the monastery was closed until the Carthusians reacquired it in 1843. In 1866 it was declared a National Monument and sequestrated by the Italian State, although some Benedictines resided there until 1880. The monks currently living in the monastery are Cistercians admitted to it in the 1960s.

In August 1946 the illegally exhumed body of Benito Mussolini was discovered in the complex. Two Franciscan friars were charged with assisting in the concealment of the body.

The church

The church is built on a Latin cross plan, with a nave, two aisles and transept, typical of Gothic architecture. It is covered by crossed vaults on Gothic arches and is inspired, on a reduced scale, by the Duomo of Milan. The vaults are alternatively decorated with geometrical shapes and starry skies. The transept and the main chapel end with square-plan chapels with smaller, semi-circular apses on three sides.

The façade of the church is famous for its exuberant decorations, typical of Lombard architecture, every part being decorated with reliefs, inlaid marble and statues. 

The classicist style portal is by Benedetto Briosco (1501). The porch has a large arch of classicist form resting on paired Corinthian columns which are each surmounted by a very strongly modelled cornice on which the arch rests, the construction being derived from the Classical, used by Brunelleschi, and employed here for a bold and striking effect. Above the central arch is a shallow balcony of three arches, above which rises the central window.

This campaign was interrupted in 1519 as work was going forward by the condition of French occupation in Lombardy after the War of the League of Cambrai. French troops were encamped round the Certosa. Notations of work on the facade did not resume until 1554, when a revised design under the direction of Cristoforo Lombardo was approved for the completion of the facade above the second arcade; there marble intarsia was substituted for the rich sculptual decorations of the lower area. Some final details were added by Galeazzo Alessi.

The Small and Grand Cloisters

An elegant portal, with sculptures by the Mantegazza brothers and Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, leads from the church to the Small Cloister. This has a small garden in the center. The most striking feature is the terracotta decoration of the small pilasters, executed by Rinaldo de Stauris between 1463 and 1478. Some arcades are decorated by frescoes by Daniele Crespi, now partially ruined. Also noteworthy is the late-14th century lavabo in stone and terracotta, with scenes of the Jesus with the Woman of Samaria at the Well.

Similar decorations also characterize the Grand Cloister, which measures c.125x100 meters. The elegant cells of the monks open to the central garden. The arcades have columns with precious decorations in terracotta, with tondoes portraying saints, prophets and angels, alternatively in white and pink Verona marble.

Paintings

In the main apse of the church is a fresco by Bergognone celebrating the Incoronation of Mary between Francesco and Ludovico Sforza. Other frescoes with saints and prophets were executed by Lombard artists, including a young Bernardino Zenale.

The Certosa has painted masterpieces by Bergognone including the panels of St. Ambrose (1490), and San Siro (1491) and, most significantly, the Crucifixion (1490). Other works by Bergognone are now found in other museums of Europe.

Also notable is the refectory, initially used as church during the construction, which has maintained a fresco with the Last Supper by Ottavio Semino, 1567 and, in the vault, a Madonna with Child and Prophets by Bergognone. In the Foresteria or Palazzo Ducale, built in the 17th century by Francesco Maria Richini, are frescoes and paintings by Vincenzo and Bernardino Campi, Bartolomeo Montagna, Bergognone and Bernardino Luini.

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Details

Founded: 1396-1495
Category: Religious sites in Italy

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

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User Reviews

jaqsbcn (6 months ago)
A great visit, free entrance. The visit is guided every hour. I was there at 10.30 and after the visits they close the main doors.
Mari Sylle (7 months ago)
The best! The facade is wonderfully made. The tour is free, you just have to be a bit earlier before the mass. Now the parking - there is a pay parking near the church but instead what I did, I parked in the nearby villages, same distance, in Via Amadeo & Via Repubblica, see the map. Worth visiting!
Fabio Locatelli (9 months ago)
Unbelievably beautiful, I couldn't ever imagine to find such artistic richness in the middle of nowhere. Awesome! A visit if you pass nearby is mandatory!!
Roberto Chiaveri (11 months ago)
A stunning masterpiece. The visit is entirely free. During the day multiple guided tours with friars are offered open to anyone (but as far as I know, only in Italian). I recommend to wait and join one because it would allow access to spaces otherwise hidden or closed. If you don’t speak Italian I’m sure an audio guide or some helpful fellow visitor would help you out. It’s not allowed to take photos inside after the inner gate: that’s why you won’t find much online about this absolute masterpiece. The gif shop offers artisanal products made by the friars from the fields and gardens like liquors, herbal tea, fruit jams and more. Close by around Pavia there are other castles, palaces and historic places to visit with a 30min drive.
Steve Johnson (12 months ago)
We took the train from Milan to Pavia, then took the bus from Pavia to the end of the tree-lined Viale Certosa boulevard leading from SS35 to the monastery. Great walk, seeing the buildings emerge in the distance. Imposing, but calming grounds, beautiful church. While we wandered, we met a delightful German family and enjoyed the experience together.
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