15 December, 2017 / By Nejma Bk / 112 views

Modena, home to Ferrari, vinegar and opera

Modena is a beautiful little city full of colours. Not far from Bologna, it sure deserves a day or more to visit it.

Known for its automotive industry (Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati; The 360 Modena, one of Ferrari's cars, was even named after the town itself), Modena Vinegar and opera, it also has a very interesting history as a centre of power.

Mutina splendidissima

The most beautiful Mutina is how Cicero called the original settlement in his Philippics (44 BC).

The exact date of the foundation of Mutina is unknown. It was already in existence in the 3rd century BC, when Hannibal invaded Italy. Sacked several times, it was rebuilt every time. Abandoned after Hannibal presence, it was rebuilt as a Roman colony in 183 BC and was used as a military base by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Sacked by Ligurians in 177 BC, it was rebuilt again, becoming the most important centre in Cisalpine Gaul. Its position was on an important crossroads between Via Aemilia and Verona.

Mutina was besieged by Pompey in 78 BC and Mark Antony in 44 BC. It stayed a very important city until the 3rd century AD. But because it served as a military base, it did not survived the fall of the Empire. A great flood erased it from the map in in the 7th century


Its inhabitants fled and founded a new city nearby. 2 centuries later, Modena was well alive. First a seat of an archbishop, it was later part of the possessions of the Countess Matilda of Tuscany and became a free comune starting in the 12th century.

From 1288,The Este family were identified as lords of Modena. Made a duchy, it became the primary ducal residence when Ferrara, the main Este seat, fell to the Pope in 1598. Modena somehow managed to stay in the lap of the Este family until the creation of the Kingdom of Italy, despite the French and Austrian invasions, and the European Revolutions of 1848.

The streets are borded with colourful houses, churches and porticoes.

Chiesa S. Giuseppe

Sebastiano Brusco Library of Economics

Beautiful building part of the Modena University.

The University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, located in Modena and Reggio Emilia is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. It was founded in 1175.

Novi Ark

Novi Ark is a free 24/24 entry archaeological park where remains of two farm buildings were reassembled. There are also a well with a stone entrance, a rectangular pool and a large circular basin with brick walls . 

Palazzina dei Giardini

The Palazzina dei Giardini was built in the 17th century, commissioned by Francesco I d’Este as a summer house within the gardens of the Palazzo Ducale.

It almost disappeared but when the gardens were rehabilitated as a public park area at the end of the 1970s, the Palazzina was restored to its splendor.

It is now used by the Galeria Civica for monographic and retrospective exhibitions.

Galleria Civica

Through temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and photography, as well as Collections of Contemporary Design, Contemporary Photography, Contemporary Graphic Art and a Museum of picture cards, the Galleria has become one of the most authoritative cultural centres in Italy. 

Fountain of the Two Rivers

The two figures represent the nearby rivers Secchia and Panaro. Each water jets are oriented in such a way it forms its own river bed. It was made by local sculptor Giuseppe Graziosi.

Teatro Comunale Modena

The Community Theatre of Modena was renamed in October 2007 as "Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti" to honor the memory of of the famous tenor Pavarotti who was born in Modena, and lived and died there.

It is not to be confused with the smaller Teatro Storchi.


Albinelli Covered Market

It is the oldest covered market in the city (1931).

The architectural style is Art Nouveau style, with in its centre is a fountain surmounted by the sculpture of a beautiful woman, the "fruit bearer" made by Giuseppe Graziosi, one of the most appreciated modenese sculptors of the 19th century.

UNESCO World Heritage Site 

The Cathedral of Modena and the Torre della Ghirlandina, together with Piazza Grande, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

“The joint creation of Lanfranco and Wiligelmo is a masterpiece of human creative genius in which a new dialectical relationship between architecture and sculpture was created in Romanesque art. The Modena complex bears exceptional witness to the cultural traditions of the 12th century and is one of the best examples of an architectural complex where religious and civic values are combined in a medieval Christian town.”

Piazza Grande

The Piazza was built in the twelfth century and then named Piazza del Duomo. It was renamed Piazza Grande during the second half of the seventeenth century. 

Mainly a marketplace, it has always been where the power was managed. Justice was administered in the square using gallows, beheading block, instruments of torture... It was usually done on Saturday to coincide with the market.

It was also the seat for religious or profane processions, masked parties and horseback jousting during Carnival, bonfires lit to celebrate the royal birth of princes or important elections...

The fight for power between religious and political institutions was done through the use of the piazza, for example when stalls and shops were coming close to invading the cathedral. 

Piazza Grande

Cathedral of Modena

The construction of the cathedral started on the 9 of June, 1099, to finish in 1184, when it was consecrated by Pope Lucius III on the 12 of July. By then, the remains of Saint Geminianus, patron saint of Modena (312-397), had already been transferred to its crypt. This was done on 30 April 1106, in the presence of Pope Paschal II, the Great Countess Matilda of Tuscany, the architect Lanfranco, clergy and of course inhabitants of the city.

The cathedral is a fine example of romanesque. It was one of the first building in this architecture style and a model for many others to come.

Do not be discouraged by the work in progress inside, the crypt is visible and beautiful.

Ghirlandina bell tower

The bell tower is the symbol of the city of Modena. Its nickname was given by the inhabitants because of the double ring of parapets that crown its steeple,looking like garlands, ghirlanda in Italian.

Whilst a religious building, the campanile had important civic functions. It marked by the ringing of its bells the time, it announced the opening of the gates in the city walls and gave the alarm if any danger was happening. 

Also, public documents and objects of great symbolic value were kept inside.

It is thought that the foundations were being dug around 1160 and the tower completed in 1319.

Unlike the cathedral, its style is gothic.

The Cathedral and the Ghirlandina

Town Hall

The town hall of Modena is a conglomeration of several pre-existing edifices built from 1046 as municipal offices and put together in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower) is dating from the end of the 15th century.

Museum Palace

The Museum Palace is a gigantic building built during the Este period. Its primary use was as a Hostel for the Poor together with the nearby Hospital in the late 18th century. Today it houses the main museums of Modena: the Estense Gallery and the Estense Library, one of the most important libraries in Italy, housing historical volumes and 3,000 manuscripts. They were both damaged by the earthquake of 2012; the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art; the Municipal Museum of Risorgimento; the Este Headstones Museum; the Roman Lapidary Museum; the Graziosi Gallery of Plaster Casts and the City Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Check the schedule before going, especially for the Estense Gallery and Library.

Christmas times

Modena can be crowdy in December. There are several Christmas markets, as well as a little train going from one to the other, and the decorations are really nice.

Palazzo Ducale

This huge building currently houses the Accademia Militare di Modena, the Military Museum and a precious Library.

It faces a beautiful square with fountains.

The colours are beautiful at sunset.

Street Art

There are some great pieces of street art in the old town.

La Casa del Viandante

Need a place to stay? The guesthouse La Casa del Viandante is a nice place. You will need to drive or take the bus to go to the city but the rooms are clean, and there is a coffee machine and a microwave.