Modena offers visitors to Italy the chance to see a vibrant, untouched city, far outside what the typical guidebooks offer. Besides, Modena is home to some of the world’s most prestigious luxury supercars (Ferrari & Maserati). Additionally, Balsamic Vinegar, Parmesan Cheese, and other magnificent foods are produced here.
Modena is located in Northern Italy, south of the Po river and very close to the Apennine mountains. Also, like many other cities in Emilia, it finds itself on the old Roman road, Via Emilia.
The city was the capital of the Dutchy of Modena until 1868, and ruled by the Estensi family. Thankfully, the city still has many monuments and memories of its glorious past.
Read on and discover why you should check out Modena on your next trip to Italy – and be sure to take notes!
Modena, Italy: Some of The World’s Famous Brands
Luciano Pavarotti purchased this estate in the mid-1980s. Also, he called this his home until his death.
The Pavarotti foundation transformed the villa (Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti) into a museum, open to all. Additionally, its walking tour offers a look into Luciano Pavarotti’s most extraordinary life. Certainly, the villa reflects Pavarotti’s joyous personality inside and out.
Inside, visitors can see the personal items that he cherished. For example, visitors will find examples of photos, letters (I.e., from Princess Diana, and Celine Dion), and other memorabilia. These are all on display for all to enjoy. Moreover, visitors will appreciate the stage outfits that were so important to Pavarotti. Lastly, visitors can see and appreciate many of his numerous awards, up close.
The villa is open for viewing daily between 10:00 am and 6 pm. Tickets are €10.00
Enzo Ferrari Museum
The Enzo Ferrari Museum features an unusual structure that, to me, resembles a UFO. Importantly, the structure surrounds the villa that Enzo Ferrari grew up in as a child. Furthermore, the museum features an array of some of the most elegant cars in Ferrari’s history. Absolutely, these cars have influenced other supercar inventors worldwide.
Also, you can visit Enzo’s father’s beautiful, restored workshop. Indeed, the workshop displays five types of historical Ferrari’s. Here, the display is split into five sections: small engines, the traditional 12 cylinder engines, eight cylinders, turbos, and lastly, Formula 1 engines.
If you’re in Modena, this is a must-see stop along the way, especially if you are a Ferrari Enthusiast!
The Museum hours of operation:
- November to March from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
- April to October 9:30 am to 7:00 pm
Admission € 16.00 students and seniors € 14.00
You can also experience an incredible semi-professional F1 simulator where you can drive on some of the world’s most challenging F1 tracks. You can make a reservation here.
Ferrari Musem In Maranello
The Ferrari Museum in Maranello (in the province of Modena, Italy) welcomes visitors to its exhibit entitled the world of Ferrari: past, present, and future. To be sure, on display, is one of the world’s most iconic supercars.
Certainly, Ferrari is one most iconic names in motorsports. Also, the “Scuderia Ferrari” is the most dominant Formula 1 racing team in history. Moreover, the Scuderia turns 90 this year (in 2019). As a result, the Ferrari Museum has created a major celebratory in its honor.
The “Hypercars” exhibit, dedicated to the landmark Ferraris, is also on display at The Maranello Museum.
The Museum hours of operation:
- November to March from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
- April to October 9:30 am to 7:00 pm
Admission € 17.00 students and seniors € 15.00
Just outside the museum, there are a few businesses that let you drive a Ferrari, for a fee. Even better, you can drive the Ferrari on the official Modena race track!
Maserati is another world-famous brand from Modena. The historical factory is located just outside downtown. Like the Ferrari museum, it’s definitely possible to book a tour on the company website.
Ancient city walls surrounded the downtown area of Modena. Unfortunately, the walls no longer exist. However, the old perimeter is still considered the boundaries of downtown (Centro Storico in Italian). Indeed, the city center is pleasant to walk through. Click Here here for a map you can download. Also, for information about events happening in Modena, you can visit the Tourist Board of the city.
Historical Rooms at the Communal Palace
The Modena City Hall is located in the main square, overlooking the Duomo. It’s open to the public and the entrance is free. Certainly, the city hall is a perfect place to start your visit of Modena, Italy.
The historic rooms are located within the city hall and are open to visitors.
The “Camerino dei Confirmati” is home to one of the city’s iconic symbols: the Secchia Rapita (Stolen Bucket). While it looks like a standard wooden bucket, it reminds the people of Modena of their glorious victory against the Bolognese in 1325 in the battle of Zappolino.
A door on the right side of the Camerino leads into the Sala del Fuoco (Fire Room), so-called because of its exquisite, large fireplace. It was here, where embers were stoked to heat the merchants who used to sell their wares in the square in winter (and still do to this day!).
The room is filled with exquisite paintings and frescos in additional to beautiful woodwork throughout. Additionally, the central square displays the municipal coat-of-arms, while Roman-inspired motifs run around the walls, just beneath the ceiling.
Modena City Hall has a balsamic vinegar production in the building attic. Indeed, it’s possible to visit by appointment.
The historic rooms are open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm and on Sunday from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. Admission is free.
The Modena Cathedral
The Modena Cathedral, also called The Duomo, sits on the original site of two churches that date back to the 5th century. Upon the discovery that Saint Geminianus (Modena’s patron saint) was buried on this site, the two churches were destroyed to build a grander cathedral. While Construction started in 1099 by the architect Lanfranco, the remains of Saint Geminianus remain on display in the cathedral’s crypt. It is one of the world’s best-preserved Romanic Style Cathedral in the world.
Inside the cathedral, you will find it sectioned into three naves. Connecting the central nave and the crypt is a marble parapet by Anselmo da Campione portraying the Passion of Christ, including the Last Supper. The pulpit is decorated with little terracotta figures. And notably, the wooden crucifix dates from the 1300s.
The iconic Ghirlandina bell tower can be seen for kilometers, is attached to the church.
The Duomo was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997.
Luciano Pavarotti, a native of Modena, had his funeral held in this cathedral.
Pavarotti Municipal Theatre
Initially opened in 1841, the city of Modena renamed it to the Luciano Pavarotti Municipal Theatre in recognition of the late, world-famous tenor born in Modena. Indeed, Pavarotti performed at this theatre numerous times throughout his lengthy career.
Inside, the Pavarotti Theatre is gorgeous and retains an old-world charm. For example, the theatre features 116 boxes on four levels. Additionally, the largest is the Ducal Box, found in the center. Furthermore, the 5th level is known as the “loggione.” Interestingly, some say the “loggione” is the area with the most excellent acoustics. Unfortunately, the theatre is not open to visits. However, you can go and see one of the many wonderful performances there.
Duke’s Palace in Modena (City Center)
The duke’s palace was one of the most prominent palaces of the 1600s. Construction on the palace started in 1634 on the location of the old Este castle.
Today, the Palace is the current home to the Military Academy, the Academy’s Historical Museum, and a precious library (available for viewing on request to the Military Academy).
Unfortunately, after 1858 when the Duke left the city and the Italian Government converted the palace into the Military Academy, many of the rooms were severely remodeled taking away their original look. Fortunately, the most prestigious room, the Duke’s Office, all made of gold plated wooden panels, was preserved.
Duke’s Summer Palace in Sassuolo
This palace is located about 16 km south of the city. Indeed, it’s the best-preserved of all the Estensi Palaces.
The building was constructed in 1458, and initially known as Rocca Castle. Then, in 1609, it was passed to the Este family, who eventually converted into a palace for use as a summer residence. Also, the architect in charge of the building, Bartolomeo Avanzini, worked with the famous roman architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The palace features several restored rooms with grand works of art. Sadly, this palace is rarely visited. Perhaps its because it resides in a small town outside of Modena (city center). Regardless, the palace remains a relevant segment of the “Estense Galleries of Modena.” Inside, you can admire the room frescos painted by the Jean Boulanger.
For hours and admission fee you can check here.
Palazzo dei Musei
This massive palace was built by Duke Francis the third as a shelter for the poor. After Italy’s unification, the palace was converted into museums, as it is today. The Duke’s massive library and Painting gallery moved here from the Duke’s palace and opened to the general public.
Here are the main museums you can visit:
The Estensi Gallery Paintings
Located on the top floor, the Palazzo dei Musei is home to the Estensi Gallery Since 1884.
Unfortunately, only a part of the works is on exhibit as there’s not enough space for the entire collection. Here, you will find paintings, drawings, objects, bronzes, and medals. Additionally, among other things stand out is the bust of Francis I by Bernini, the portrait of the duke of Velasquez, the triptych of El Greco, and the paintings of Correggio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Guido Reni, Guercino, Salvator Rosa.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm and on Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm admission €5.00
Initially created by the lords of Ferrara at the end of the 14th century, the library remained linked to the Este family until 1860. In 1882, the contents moved from the palace to its current location in the “Palazzo dei Musei.” Since 2016, it is now part of the new Gallerie Estensi institute.
The Estensi library collection consists of a sizable number of books of historical and artistic interest since the time of the Marquis Niccolò III.
Some of the most precious books kept in the Library are the “Monumenta Della Miniatura Estense,” the Bible of Borso, the Genealogy of the Princes of Este, the Missal of Borso, the Breviary of Hercules, the Obizzi collection of Catajo, and the correspondences of Muratori and Tiraboschi.
The Biblioteca Estense Universitaria has a single exhibition hall: the “Sala Campori,” which houses temporary exhibitions. Visting hours tend to change. As a result, you are welcome to check here for the current operating hours.
The Civic Museum of Modena
Here you can visit several artifacts from the bronze age, celts, roman and medieval times all find in Modena. The collections are quite extensive and easy to visit. Among the artifacts, one of the most famous is the children mummy that was found near Modena. This is a mummy of a roman 3 years old children that has been restored and now it is on display at the museum.
The Church of Sant’Agostino
The Augustinian Hermits founded the church of Sant’Agostino in the 14th century. Then, refurbishment completed in 1663 with the help of architect Gian Giacomo Monti. Eventually, it became the venue for the Este family funerals. Additionally, Francesco I of Este became the first duke to be commemorated in the church. When the Duke passed, elegant yet temporary decorations transformed the church during the funeral.
In the case of Alfonso IV, these decorations became permanent, a unique event in the history of European funerary art. Indeed, the incredible artwork displays a remarkable series of monarchs, empresses, kings and queens, saints and holy men, bishops, and popes.
In 2018, the church reopened following repairs due to the 2012 earthquake. Inside, it houses masterpieces including the 16th-century terracotta Lamentation by Antonio Begarelli and a fragment of a 14th-century fresco of a Madonna and Child attributed to Tomaso da Modena.
You may view the Church of Sant’Agostino Monday-Friday between 10 am-6 pm and on Saturday & Sunday between 9 am and 7:30 pm.
The Old Hospital
Across the street from the Palazzo dei Musei, you can see the old Modena Hospital built by Duke Francis the Third for the city and used as a hospital until 2005. Today the building is used to host art exhibits.
The Anatomical Theatre in Modena, Italy
Antonio Scarpa built the Anatomical Theatre between December 1773 and January 1775. Then, Scarpa inaugurated it on January 25th, 1775. Additionally, the “Universita Degli Studi” paid for the building, and the “Opera Pia Generale de Poveri” provided the infrastructure.
Furthermore, Lorenzo Tosci handled the design and oversaw its development. Interestingly, the Anatomy Theatre in Padua was a very similar building. For example, it featured a full elliptical amphitheater, although lower and broader than the one in Padua.
You may view the Anatomical Theatre on Fridays between 3 pm-7:30 pm and on Saturday & Sunday from 10 am – 7:30 pm. The entrance is free.
The Historic Pharmacy
The historic pharmacy was initially known as a “Spezeria.” It was created in the second half of the 18th-century after Duke Francesco III d’Este built the “Great Hospital for the Sick.”
In 1764, the Duke invited the Opera Pia Generale Dei Poveri to build the pharmacy as part of a wider urban rebuilding and improvement program.
The main room features fabulous ceiling frescos painted in 1851. Certainly, the eclectic style of the 19th century is visible within the frescos. For example, they feature ovals, hemispheres, vases of flowers, and profiles of scientists. To be sure, they are both modern and classical.
Its most recent restoration was in 2010. Here, the fresco’s original colors, such as the blue and gold leaf, are once again boldly visible. Furthermore, the restored & historic maple shelving housed numerous pharmaceutical volumes. Also, they held more than a hundred majolica containers, and bronze and marble mortars. Unfortunately, the massive paintings, however, have been removed.
You may view the Historic Pharmacy on Fridays between 3 pm-7:30 pm and Saturdays & Sundays, 10 am and 7:30 pm. The entrance is free.
The Typical Foods of Modena, Italy
Modena has an incredibly rich and strong food tradition, Some people say that the entire Emilia Romagna region is probably the best region in Italy for food. Modena is world-famous for Balsamic Vinegar but there are many other specialties that are worth to have. The city is full of traditional restaurants and more modern and contemporary ones. If you visit Modena here are some culinary tips.
The Albinelle historic market is located right downtown. It is the center of Modena’s world-famous culinary tradition. The market is open Monday to Friday from 6:30 am to 2:30 pm. Saturday 6:30 am to 2:30 and from 2:30 pm to 7:00 pm. Here you can buy Parmiggiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar, Amaretti di Modena (soft chewy almond cookies) and many other Modena specialties. At lunchtime, many vendors have tables dedicated to serve lunch. On Fridays and Saturdays, the market is also open for dinner.
Historic Giusti Store
This is the Oldest deli store in Europe, and perhaps the world. The Giusti Store Opened in 1605 and remains in operation. Indeed, it sells some of the best typical products of Modena, Italy. The Giusti store is a great place to try some local specialties and, of course, take some home with you.
Gnocco Fritto, is a specialty of Modena. This light, fluffy and pillowy deep-fried dough used to be the traditional Modena breakfast. Nowadays is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is best eaten fresh from the frier accompanied by salumi (cured meats) such as prosciutto, mortadella, and salami. Many coffee shops serve Gnocco Fritto daily from early morning until lunchtime. At dinner time you can have it in one of the many restaurants in the area.
Tortellini in Panna
Tortellini are the typical stuffed pasta of Modena. Typically served with broth today are also served in a thick and rich creamy sauce (Panna). A must-try when visiting the area.
Modena’s typical wine is Lambrusco. Certainly, this is a red sparkling wine, ideal with the rich food of the area. Indeed, there are two main kinds of Lambrusco:
- Lambrusco di Sorbara: produced north of the city, this kind is lighter in color, almost a rosé, tangy and dry.
- Lambrusco Grasparossa or Castelvetro: this variety is produced south of the city towards the mountains. It is much darker in color and with a very subtle sweet note.
Parmesan – The King of Cheese
The province of Modena is one of the provinces where they make the true Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese. To be sure, you can visit a typical cheese factory and see and learn all about this incredible cheese. Then, at markets such as Albinelli, several cheese vendors will be happy to make you try the different varieties of Parmesan.
Traditional Nocino of Modena, Italy
Nocino is made from walnuts picked in June, and then let to macerate in alcohol and spices. Historically, it was considered a medicinal remedy for indigestion and stomach problems. Nowadays, it’s served after a meal as a digestive. Surely, many local restaurants each offer their homemade Nocino production for their customers’ enjoyment.
Nocino makes for a great souvenir to bring back home!
Balsamic Vinegar is considered the king of condiments. Certainly, this traditional vinegar is world-famous. The most coveted versions of the “Black Gold” are aged 12 and 25 years. Of course, depending on your budget, you can find both younger and older versions. Also, there are many producers around the area. To be sure, Balsamic Vinegar is so famous and important that it deserves its own post.
A few kilometers south of the city, by the foothill of the Apennines mountains, you can find the land of the castles.
Castle of Vignola
This huge castle is in the town of Vignola, about 16km southeast of Modena, Italy. The fortress is perfectly preserved, open to the public. You can visit it from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:30 pm to 6:00 pm. The best part is that admission is free!
Historically, documents from as far back as 936 AD mention the presence of the castle. The castle of Vignola that you can visit today remains untouched from the time it was built in the thirteenth century. Interestingly, some of the towers were used as jails. Furthermore, today, you can still admire some of the graffiti left by the prisoners held captive.
Castle of Levizzano Rangone
The Castle of Levizzano Rangone in Modena, Italy, is located in the small town of Levizzano, just a few kilometers from Vignola. Certainly, this is an example of another important, yet ancient fortress. Interestingly, the castle is mentioned in documents dating back to 1038 AD. Unfortunately, the castle is currently closed to the general public.
Surrounded by vines, the charming medieval town of Castelvetro is nestled in the hills south of Modena. Those who walk through the lovely cobblestone streets of Castelvetro are brought back in time.
The little town of Formigine has another remarkable castle in its main square. Interestingly, the original castle dates back to the thirteenth century. Unfortunately, some of its original structures got damaged as a result of it being heavily bombed in 1945. Then, right after WWII, the town council bought the castle and proceeded to restore it back to its former glory. Today, tourists to Modena Italy can explore the castle of Formigine. Nowadays, City Hall of Formigine also uses part of the castle as its home. Click here for hours and admission info.
We hope this article helps you discover a great and vibrant city in Italy.
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Rick and Andrea