One of the true highlights of historic Capri and a base for the island's arts, this grand, palatial complex is between the Castiglione and Tuoro hills, and was for centuries a Carthusian monastery dedicated to St. James. It was founded between 1371 and 1374, when Queen Giovanna I of Naples gave Count Giacomo Arcucci, her secretary, the land and the means to create it. The count himself then became devoutly religious and retired here until his death. After the monastery was sacked by the pirates Dragut and Barbarossa in the 16th century, it was heavily restored and rebuilt—thanks in part to heavy taxes exacted from the populace. The friars within were detested by many Capresi for refusing to open the gates to minister to the people when plague broke out.
You enter the complex via a grandly imposing entryway, which leads to the Biblioteca Comunale Popolare Luigi Bladier (public library—Capri's only free Internet point) and the spacious church of San Giacomo (built in 1690, reopened
after renovations in 2010). After admiring the church's baroque frescoes, follow the signpost down toward the Parco, which leads down an avenue flanked by pittosporum and magnolia toward the magnificent monastery gardens and some welcome benches with stunning views. Take heed of the signs reminding you to watch your step, as the ground is uneven in places. Beyond a covered road lies the Chiostro Grande (Large Cloister)—originally the site of the monks' cells and now the home of a high school; nearby is the 15th-century Chiostro Piccolo (Small Cloister), both often the venues for summertime open-air concerts. The reopened (2010) Quarto del Priore hosts art exhibitions from international artists, but the showstopper here is the Museo Diefenbach, comprising a collection of restored large canvases by influential German painter K. W. Diefenbach, who visited Capri in 1900 and stayed until his death in 1913. For years, Diefenbach rivaled the Blue Grotto for sheer picturesqueness—he was given to greeting visitors replete with flowing white beard, monk's cowl, and primitive sandals.