16 Best Things to Do in Modena, Italy
Modena is located in the heart of Emilia Romagna and is a small city full of charm, perfect for a visit for a few days. You can relive the ancient history of the city by walking among the monuments of the historic center, the legacy of the important past of the city that was the capital of the Duchy of Este.
Piazza Grande is the main square of Modena and has been the heart of the city since ancient times when it was used as a market and was the meeting place par excellence for citizens. The legacy of these practices is the “Ringadora” Stone (in Modenese dialect it means “stone of the harangue”) located in front of the entrance to the Town Hall and used in the past for various purposes: as a stage for oratories and as a place for the sentences of death.
The Cathedral of Modena, dedicated to St. Maria Assunta, is considered a masterpiece of the romantic style. It stands in the central Piazza Grande and was built in 1099 by the architect Lanfranco and the sculptor of bas-reliefs Wiligelmo. These sculptures make the Cathedral a true “stone Bible” for the faithful, staging the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the Universal Flood. Biblical scenes, therefore, but not only: we also find sculptural cycles dedicated to the months and the main activities that characterize them, the stories of the patron saint of the city San Geminiano and even the story of King Arthur. Inside, however, it is made up of red bricks and preserves many works of art such as frescoes, paintings, and statues.
Also can visit the underground crypt, where the tomb of San Geminiano, patron saint of the city, is kept.
If you want to learn more about the Cathedral, you can visit the Museums of the Cathedral of Modena, divided into two sections: the Lapidary Museum, which collects artifacts from both the construction site of the Duomo and from buildings of previous eras, and the Duomo Museum, which exhibits sacred decorations and furnishings, part of the real “treasure of the Cathedral”.
Next to the Duomo stands the Ghirlandina, the 86 meter high tower, a symbol of the city. This tower is a sort of “lighthouse” for the people of Modena, a point of reference that accompanies them during the days. Born as the bell tower of the Cathedral, to mark the rhythms of city life, it has held various functions over time: civil, religious, and defensive. From its top, it is possible to enjoy a wonderful view of the city.
The cathedral and its bell tower are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are one of the greatest examples in Italy and Europe of Romanesque art.
Modena Town Hall
In Piazza Grande, there is also the Town Hall, a refined seventeenth-century building with arcades. Under the portico of Piazza Grande, there is a beautiful staircase that leads to the historic halls of the Municipality. We recommend that you take some time to visit it.
In one of the rooms there is the “Secchia rapita,” a wooden bucket that commemorates the victory of the Modenese against the Bolognese in the battle of Zappolino, told in the poem by Alessandro Tassoni. The wedding hall is very suggestive, which houses several paintings by Adeodato Malatesta and in which the coat of arms of Modena is depicted.
Albinelli Historical Market
From Piazza Grande go now towards Piazza XX Settembre and the Albinelli Historical Market. Piazza XX Settembre, opened in the early 1900s, is striking for the colorful facades of the houses that surround it. It is dominated on its longest side by Palazzo Tagliazucchi, a brick building dating back to the 16th century which today is the seat of a bank. It is a characteristic place to stop for a while. At number 29 there is one of the entrances to the beautiful covered market “Albinelli”. The main entrance, however, is in via Albinelli. The market street was renamed and called “Albinelli” in honor of the Mayor who decided to build it, Luigi Albinelli. With the opening of the Albinelli Market, inaugurated in 1931, the city retail trade has “moved” from Piazza Grande, the square that until then was a reference point for commercial exchanges, to via Albinelli, thus transforming street vendors into stable traders. Today the Albinelli Market is recognized as a monument of national historical interest. It is a characteristic place of the history of the city of Modena, where it is possible to find fresh and genuine, quality products, linked to the traditional Modenese cuisine, visited weekly by about 30,000 visitors.
The Albinelli Market is therefore absolutely one of the visits to do during your stay in the city, both to make some purchases and to enjoy the magical atmosphere that you breathe. This market absolutely remains the “place” of the Modenese cultural and gastronomic tradition. At the market, it is possible to make some gastronomic purchases and sit at a table to eat something on the fly.
Still on the subject of food, “Crescentina” (also called “Tigella”) is a type of bread and it is one of the first street foods sold and consumed in Modena. Usually, tigelle is eaten in trattorias, as a single dish, seated at a table. Over time, however, several “tigellerie” or “crescenterie” were born where you can buy not only stuffed tigelle with many variations to eat immediately, but also empty ones, raw or cooked, to take home, freeze, and eat in the following days.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
They call it black gold: we are talking about the traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The undisputed protagonist of the Modena tables, but now famous all over the world, the culture of balsamic vinegar in the city is something deeply rooted. In Modena, in fact, many families carry on the family vinegar factory as usual. Balsamic vinegar of Modena has an ancient tradition being a very used condiment in local cuisine. Before enjoying it in one of the excellent Modena restaurants, go and see the Municipal Acetaia housed in the attic of the Town Hall.
Via Emilia Centro
Via Emilia is the most popular street for those who love walking in the historic centre and cuts the city from east to west. The street runs from Piazza Sant’Agostino to Largo Garibaldi and is the shopping street as well as one of the points of interest in the city. To distinguish the Via Emilia are the many shops, artisan shops, bars and above all the famous arcades.
Ducal Palace of Modena
Walk all the way down via Farini, a side street of via Emilia, which starts at the historic Molinari Cafè. From the beginning of the street, you can see the splendid Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace), the historic home of the Duchy of the Este for more than two centuries, now home to the Military Academy. The Ducal Palace overlooks the beautiful Piazza Roma, which with its 9,400 square meters, its fountains, water features and its splendid marble benches has become one of the most evocative places in the city.
The Palazzo Ducale is an imposing, sumptuous, and very rich building, commissioned by Francesco I, one of the Dukes of Modena. The Duke commissioned the construction of the palace to the greatest artists of the time, including Girolamo Rainaldi, Bartolomeo Avanzini, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini, and Pietro da Cortona.
Modena Botanical Gardens
Nearby is the Botanical Garden of Modena, which has existed since 1758 by the will of Duke Francesco III d’Este who wanted a part of the Ducal Garden to be used for medicinal plants. The University, on the other hand, was established 7 years later and everything was increased with the enrichment of the Herbarium and the purchase of numerous botanical collections.
Palazzo dei Musei
Do not miss a visit to the Palazzo dei Musei, a museum complex with various attractions: the Roman and Estense Lapidary Museum, the Historical Archive, the Civic Archaeological and Ethnological Museum and the Civic Art Museum. The Civic Art Museum is an interesting museum in Modena, also located in the Palazzo dei Musei, where it was established starting from 1871 after archaeological excavations, mostly prehistoric. In addition to artistic works, the museum also houses ethnological collections which since 1962 have been divided into two distinct sectors, giving rise to the Ethnological Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art.
The Estense Gallery is one of those important places for its refinement and elegance: it exhibits the collection of works of art that belonged to the Dukes of Este and a collection of works acquired over the last two centuries. Guercino, Annibale Carracci and Dosso Dossi are just some of the artists present with their works of art. Inside the gallery you will find four halls and sixteen exhibition rooms entirely dedicated to the great artistic heritage that belonged to this family which includes paintings, statues, busts, ancient coins and much more.
The Estense Lapidary Museum was the first public museum in Modena, founded by Duke Francesco IV of Austria-Este in 1828, inspired by important and already known examples such as the Maffeiano Lapidary Museum in Verona and the Lapidary Gallery in the Chiaramonti Museum in the Vatican.
Initially, it consisted of some pieces already preserved in the Ducal Palace of Modena and of Roman remains but later it also welcomed memories and sepulchral arks that for centuries had been preserved in other sacred buildings in Modena and Reggio Emilia.
Museo della figurina (Collectible Card Museum)
For children, but not only, there is the Museo della Figurina (Stickers Museum), in Corso Canalgrande, a magical place that will bring you back to childhood. Born thanks to the entrepreneur Giuseppe Panini, in the museum you will find yourself in front of a truly immense collection that brings together, in addition to the most classic stickers, also old prints, calendars or matchboxes. The exhibitors are great albums to browse and everything here has a magical atmosphere, suspended between dream and reality, between past and future. You will make your children happy, if you have them, but for you too it will be a moment of culture and entertainment, at the same time: among football players and cartoon characters, you will retrace beautiful years and moments of Italian history.
Enzo Ferrari Museum
Not too far from the city center, there is also the very famous MEF – Casa Museo Enzo Ferrari, a true Italian excellence and a splendid tribute from the city of Modena to its illustrious citizen Enzo Ferrari, driver and founder of the car manufacturer Ferrari. The Museum is divided into two areas: the birthplace, where the visitor can retrace the life of this great character through very interesting films, photos and the most disparate objects, and then the inevitable exhibition of cars, in a futuristic environment (the building was built in the shape of a bonnet and painted in yellow like the famous Ferrari brand).
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Luciano Pavarotti House Museum
The Luciano Pavarotti House Museum is located in Stradello Nava 6, in Modena, in the area that the Maestro had purchased in the mid-eighties, where he had built some stables and opened a riding school. The Maestro’s households the personal objects he loved and contain the memories of his days spent in the company of family, friends, and young students. The visit to this house will allow you to discover Pavarotti by knowing his daily habits, as a man even before as an artist.
The first room you visit is in the hall in which there is the beautiful piano with some photographs above that portray Pavarotti with some famous people, personalities who have become great friends of the Maestro over time.
When you go up to the second floor of the house, you really realize the Maestro’s international artistic value: prizes, acknowledgments, letters, and an entire wall of photographs that portray him together with world-famous personalities.
info and prices: https://www.casamuseolucianopavarotti.it/en/
Luciano Pavarotti Municipal Theatre of Modena
At this point, it is also worth visiting the “Luciano Pavarotti” Municipal Theater. This is the main opera house in Modena, built by Francesco Vandelli, the architect of the court of Duke Francesco IV of Modena, in the mid-nineteenth century. The theater is wonderful, and even the programming, which moves among opera, ballet, and concerts, is always very interesting and high. It is possible to book a guided tour. In front of the theater that took the name of the great Modenese tenor Luciano Pavarotti, you can find the bronze statue dedicated to him. The work depicts the master Pavarotti in life-size, in his typical pose of greeting.
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