Travel and Culture in
Emilia Romagna

MODENA: tourism and culture

Some useful and interesting informations about Modena: history, art, events, nature, gastronomy.



Modena is one of the Emilian province’s chieftowns, a nice little town in the Po Valley, along Emilia Road (Via Emilia)

Modena is one of the Emilian province’s chieftowns, a nice little town in the Po Valley, along Emilia Road (Via Emilia). It is known all over the world for its car industry, Ferrari, which has got its seat in the near Maranello village. It is also seat of the glorious Italian Military Academy and it benefits of an elevated cultural prestige, thanks to its artistic and cultural heritage. Moreover, Modena is an active industrial, agricultural and commercial centre in constant expansion.
If you want to reach Modena by car, you have to take the motorway A1 Milano-Roma and leave it at the exit sign Modena, or drive along the main road nr. 9, called Emilia.
The railway line follows the motorway network and Modena is well connected and accessible from very part of Italy.
The references if you are flying are: Marconi airport in Bologna and G. Verdi airport in Parma.


Modena was founded in the 3rd century B.C. by the Celts and later, as part of the Roman Empire, it became an important agricultural centre along Emilia road. After the barbarian invasions of the 5th and 4th centuries, the town resumed the commercial activities and, in the 9th century, it was possible for it to build the first circle of walls, which would mark its development throughout the Middle Ages, until its transformation into a Libero Comune (free municipality).
After the short Mantuan domination in 1289, Modena went back under the dominion of the House of Este in 1336, who kept on governing it until 1796. These years were a period of splendour and the urban complex extended. It was in this period when the streets of the historical town centre were laid-out, according to the “chessboard model”, coming from the nearby Ferrara. In 1598 Modena became capital of the Este Dukedom and was embellished by numerous religious and civilian buildings, which gave a majestic and solemn look to the town. In the 19th century, the Auster-Este dinasty devoted itself to the town’s modernization, which underwent a complete change of its layout, through the demolition of the walls, then substituted by the today still existing wooded ring road.


A really exclusive building is the Duomo (the cathedral), one of the most distinguished and most complete example of Romanesque, which was built in 1099, according to the plan of the architect Lanfranco

Modena, with its province so rich in parish churches and Romantic castles, is an actual artistic jewel. It is a compulsory destination for all those who visit Emilia Romagna and want to admire an excellent Romanesque style and all the buildings realized under the rule of the House of Este.
A really exclusive building is the Duomo (the cathedral), one of the most distinguished and most complete example of Romanesque, which was built in 1099, according to the plan of the architect Lanfranco. The church’s front is enriched by three portals and, in the centre, there is a beautiful rose window, a work by Campionesi.
Particularly important are the sculptures by Wiligelmo, that give a proper interpretation of the Romanesque style. The interior of the church needs to be explored: you can admire the wonderful 14th century pulpit by Arrigo Campione and the precious Madonna della Pappa in terracotta by Antonio Begarelli.
Externally, next to the three apses of the church, stands the Ghirlandina Tower, symbol of the town and, not far from there, you can visit the Cathedral’s Lapidary Museum, which encloses sculptures and architectural remnants of the ancient cathedral. There are other important buildings: St Peter’s Church, built in 1476 in Renaissance style, St Augustine’s Church built in 1663, with a beautiful lacunar ceiling and Palazzo Ducale, which was the old residence of the Estensi and is today the seat of the Military Academy.
Then the old Library of the Este Dukes is important too, since it is one of the most highly regarded libraries in Italy, because of its collections of illuminated codes and other masterpieces, as the Bible by Borso d’Este. We recommend you to visit carefully the Civic Museums and the Estense Gallery, which has got one of the most estemated Italian art collections.


About 17 Km away from Modena you can visit the Nature Reserve Salse di Nirano. This reserve is situated on the hilly part of the territory belonging to the Fiorano Modenese municipality and it extends for 200 hectares, including the Fossa and Chianca water courses. The central part of the reserve is constituted by a big basin, shaped like an amphitheatre, that presents wide meadows, vineyards, strips of wood and sheets of waters among gully outcrops.
On the bottom of the basin you can see the grey large spots of salses, which are the emissions of salted muds and oozy water. They settle in conical heights, from which gases and bituminous substancies come out. Their formation is owed to the subterranean water, that brings the clays to the surface through the soil’s fractures. This kind of emergence is specific of Nirano and it is the most important one on the whole national territory.
Inside the Nature Reserve Salse di Nirano you can find the Centro Visite (visit centre) Cà Tassi, a starting point both for free or organized visits.


A very well-known event is Mostra Modena Antiquaria, an antique exhibition (for those who are fond of this article), which is held at the end of February. It encloses numerous precious pieces and has usually a large attendance.
Another important date is the annual concert Pavarotti International (held in June), an event of great prominence for the international music. Finally the theatre, music and dance festival, that takes place in the town square in the period July-August, preceded in June by the Settimana Estense, a week of celebrations, which takes Modena back to the Estense splendour of the end of the 16th century, through a parade in period costume.
During this celebration, the town organizes games, period sports, the passing of the historical parade, included music, dances, the popular banquet and the quintain tournament (giostra della Quintana).


All over the world, Modena means good food and to eat well, in this town, is an art that has been handed on from generation to generation

All over the world, Modena means good food and to eat well, in this town, is an art that has been handed on from generation to generation. The result is the existence of delicious dishes, which do not forget their rural origin, based on a genuine home cooking tradition. The humble roots of the Modenese gastronomy have interwoven with the cultivated and elegant food of the nobles of the Estense Court.
So an ideal Modenese dinner must open with the dainty salumi (salami and cold pork meats), first of all with the prosciutto crudo (uncooked ham), followed by the mythical tortellini in brodo (tortellini served with meat broth), made with a pork meat, ham and Parmesan cheese stuff. Then the main course, the king of the Modenese table, is the zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter) served with lentils. The zampone is, in fact, an old and delicious course, whose origin vanishes into legends and myths.
Moreover, we must not forget that Modena is famous all over the world for the production of its excellent aceto balsamico (aromatic vinegar), which has got an inimitable and unique fragrance and is used to flavour meat, sauces and to emphasize the taste of strawberries and ice-cream. This special kind of vinegar is produced with the must of Trebbiano grapes, cultivated on the Modenese hills, with a recipe that gives it that unmistakable sweet-and-sour taste. We recommend you to try the tigelle, too, (savoury flat bread), baked in wood-burning ovens, that you can eat with salami and/or cheese.
At the end of the meal you must taste the sweet Vignola cherries (in alcohol), matched with a good castagnaccio (chestnut cake) or with the Bensone, a home made cake, washed down by Sassolino (a typical liquor). In the end, do not miss a drop of nocino, made with the nuts’hull.
As table wine we advise you to drink the typical Lambrusco di Modena.


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