Despite its vast, light-filled interior and unabashedly cheerful cloisters, the church of Naples’ 13th- to 15th–century French rulers, the House of Anjou, is steeped in a stormy past. It’s not a sign of a good marriage when a wife’s only desire is to be a nun, but that’s what Queen Sancha, second wife of Robert the Wise wanted, so the king founded Santa Chiara in 1343 as a place for her to retreat from the world. Robert’s tomb is in the nave; the poet Boccaccio eulogized him as “unique among kings of our day, friend of knowledge and virtue.” His granddaughter Joan was crowned queen here in 1343, launching an enlightened reign nonetheless marred with plotting, intrigue, the murder of a husband, and her own demise at 56, when she was smothered with pillows. Her body was thrown into a deep well on the grounds of Santa Chiara and, once retrieved, she was denied Christian burial because of her heretical anti-papal views and laid to rest in an unmarked grave under the church floor. During World War II, Allied bombers laid waste to most of the church’s colorful frescoes, though a few fragments remain in the reconstructed nave. Other frescoes line the walls of the delightful cloisters, where columns are decorated with colorful Mallorca tiles. This is one of the most refreshing corners of Naples, and well worth the 5€ admission fee if you’ve been walking around the old city and need some peace and quiet.
- Frommer's Staff