Villa San Michele is not a residence in the ordinary meaning of the word. It is rather the bearer of Axel Munthe's thoughts and feelings about beauty and the great questions of life, but at the same time it is open for personal interpretation.
The architecture is there to emphasize the magnificence of the landscape, at the same time forming a worthy framework for the works of art. In this respect the park plays an important role. For example, the statues overgrown with ivy and the mossy marble pieces scattered around the garden are characteristic. The number of objects in marble, stone, mosaic, and terracotta total around 655. There are around 530 in wood, metal, ceramics and textiles. The collection can be said to be divided into several main themes, such as nature and animal images, as well as death and dying. But they are in no way exhibited programmatically. Rather they seem to consist of randomly placed pieces, of widely differing quality. But regardless of the artistic quality of the individual object, what was important for Dr. Munthe was the message or personal memories it had for him. This was governed by the fact that the collections do not contain clusters of items acquired from other collections.
The museum's inventory encompasses different periods from Antiquity to the early 20th Century. The classical antiquities are Roman, Egyptian, or Etruscan. Only a few of them originate from the imperial buildings that were on the site. These are remnants of buildings, ornamentation, and frescoes.
The origin of the objects varies. Dr. Munthe's widespread contacts through-out Europe stretched from Scandinavia to Italy and from England as far as Russia.
San Michele is truly the creation of a world citizen.
The design of the garden still follows Munthe's intentions Leaving the Villa one passes under an open Gallery which then becomes a pergola and later opens into a series of terraces with splendid panoramic views. Here are to be found the more secluded and open corners of the garden.
Everywhere pots, amphoras and various "objets d'art" are to be seen. Many different flowers come into bloom - camellias, flowering ash, azaleas, Chinese wisteria, hydrangeas, roses, agapanthus, busy Lizzie and hundreds of other plants from thr Mediterranean region and other parts of the world. The indigenous wild flowers include acanthus, myrtle, broom, rock rose and many others. The predominant tall tree species are the pine, palm and cypress.
Thanks to its geographic position the garden remains fresh and green all year round. During the hottest period of summer the pergolas offer refreshing shade to the visitor.
The Museum San Michele's collection contains objects from different cultures and ranging over a long period, from around 1250 BC to the beginning of the 20th Century.
The collection consists of 1647 objects, of which around one-quarter are antiquities. One interesting and unusual piece is the Egyptian sphinx in red and black granite from the time of Ramses II in the chapel loggia. A small collection from the Etruscan period includes a sphinx in marble, urns in a variety of materials and a sculptured head in terracotta. Most of the Roman antiquities are represented by inscriptions, mosaics, opus reticulatum, sculptures and columns.
Medieval bifora and trifora windows with Roman antiquities such as capitals, columns, and bases adorn the facades and interiors. In the atrium there is the Roman fountain from "Sepolte vive-klostret" in Naples, and the Medusa mask in the studio belongs to the group of Medusa sculptures that come from the Venus temple in Rome.
In the chapel there are archeological finds, and objects that illustrate medieval church art as well as the Neapolitan Renaissance. One highlight of Renaissance ironwork is the tent bed from Sicily in the bedroom. A significant collection of 18th Century furniture, mostly from Tuscany and the Veneto region is particularly well-represented on the upper floor of the museum. In the dining room and the kitchen there are important collections of 18th Century Swedish pewter and Lombard copper vessels from the 16th Century.
In the garden there are primarily displays of archeological objects as well as medieval Italian antiquities. The museum also owns Swedish 19th Century china, but other countries, especially Italy, are represented with household utensils. Some of Sweden's Queen Victoria's estate was bought by Axel Munthe after her death in 1930, and can also be found within the San Michele Foundation property. Axel Munthe's documents and some of his personal effects, such as doctor's equipment and the manuscript of his book "The Story of San Michele", are also found in the collection.
In the neighbourhood of Villa San Micheles there is a building going back to the 18th century, which can be seen as representing somewhat of a refined local building tradition.
Originally the periodic residence of the Bishops of Capri in Anacapri, during the late 19th century it became Dr. Munthe's gueshouse (hence the name, which refers to the convent's pilgrim hostel). Even after it was added to the Munthe properties around San Michele, it continued to be characterised by a somewhat ascetic atmosphere.
Despite the walls, in accordance with the doctor's tastes, being ornamented with decorative marble objects. Today it serves as a center for the San Michele Foundation's cultural activities.
On the mountain top above Villa San Michele are the ruins of a fortress. This includes a (high elevation) central part, in which Munthe built a simple sleeping accomodation, called Villino Barbarossa, as well as the surrounding walls.
As with Anacapris, the fortification dates to around the year 1000 and over the centuries has undergone a series of reconstructions. The historic name Barbarossa refers to the corsair Khair-ed-Din, who in the 16th century captured Capri several times.
Munthe acquired the mountainside in order to create a sancturary for migratory birds, which today is a natural oasis, watched over by the Capri Bird Observatory, placed in the habitable part of the ruins.