Down a quiet and charming street in the city of Anacapri, high up on the island of Capri, you will find a pretty little sign pointing you toward the Chiesa Monumentale di San Michele. Heading down this side street takes you to a very small piazza dominated by a pretty church with a white facade. Inside is surely one of the greatest architectural treats on the Amalfi Coast and the surrounding islands. To visit the church you will need to pay €2, but it is certainly worth it for what you will find inside. Let me tempt you . . .
Once you step inside a small vestibule and pay the small fee, you will be ushered directly into the church where you will see the exquisite majolica tile floor depicting the scene of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. I guarantee that it will take your breath away! As you walk around the octagonal church on the little wooden platform (you can’t walk on the floor!), you can admire the beautiful floor, the elaborate side chapels, and the high altar.
The floor dates from 1761 and was created by Leonardo Chiaiese, one of the most important majolica artists from Abruzzo working in the Naples area in the 18th century. Once you walk all the way around, go back into the vestibule and climb a very narrow spiral staircase up to the gallery level. This offers the best views of the entire floor.
Chiaiese filled the Garden of Eden with a variety of domestic animals, including goats and cows, and a selection of exotic animals, such as a jaguar, lion, monkeys, an elephant, some rather unidentifiable animals, and a beautiful unicorn. The animals are peaceful and go about their business seemingly unaware of the dramatic scene taking place in the center of the church.
From above, you also have an excellent view of the beautiful high altar with a painting of Saint Michael the Archangel by Nicola Malinconico. The side chapels and altar feature works by important Neapolitan painters, including Francesco Solimena, Giacomo Del Po, and Paolo De Matteis.
The Chiesa di San Michele was built between 1698 and 1719, and is one of the best examples of Neapolitan architecture from this period. Its graceful dome and pale colors create an airy feeling making the church feel much larger than its small floor plan.
Last Saturday I was able to visit the Chiesa di San Michele again for the first time in two years, and it reminded me that it is certainly one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. If you are heading soon to Anacapri, don’t miss this gem!