Capital of Romanesque art, Modena was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, attributed to its wealth of monuments, from Piazza Grande to the Ghirlandina Tower and its Cathedral, Medieval Christian masterpieces, unique representatives of a 12th-Century cultural-artistic tradition.
Provincial Capital set inside the Region of Emilia Romagna, it lies within the Val Padana, and boasts Gallic origins. The city lived a phase of major importance during the domination of the House of Este that ruled it from 1288 to 1796.Beginning in 1598, when Cesare d’Este, Duke of Modena moved the Duchy Capital from Ferrara to Modena, newly connoting it as the City of d’Este. Thus an important point of reference for the Duchy d’Este, it became the center of national political events and peculiarities in the Italian cultural tradition, both of which its monuments reflect.
Site of a number of treasures and a central hub around which the urban fabric weaves, the quadrangular Piazza Grande has remained in a perfect state of conservation even up to today. This is where the city’s structures of civic and religious power have long held court.
The celebrated Duomo, founded in 1099, is also in Piazza Grande: the National Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Geminiano is one of the best examples of Italian Romanesque art in its highest form. Its realization was rather slow and intensive; only in the 1300s were the crypt enlarged, the choir raised, and the roof extended. Numerous are the allegorical and Biblical depictions present in the sculptural works, on the facade and in the interiors of the Cathedral.
The UNESCO recognition is essentially a recognition of the collaboration between the architect Lanfranco and the sculptor Wiligelmo, the masters responsible for its construction. These two epic personalities adopted stylistic solutions that influenced the Po Romanesque, or the Romanesque of the Padanian Plain, long after they were gone.
The city line is no less characterized by the Torre Civica or Ghirlandina Tower, that had the double function as both a religious monument and as defensive and lookout tower. At 289 feet tall, it is connected to the Duomo by way of two arches; it was raised at two different points in time, and finally completed in the 14th Century. Its first six orders came into being in the initial statges, followed by its octagonal tholobate or drum, and its tented roof. It was Arrigo da Campione who dreamed up the Tower, directing his efforts toward it beginning in 1261.
Besides the three monuments that were vital in obtaining Modena’s UNESCO status, the city certainly does not lack for other, equally-worthy tourist attractions:
For instance, the majestic Palazzo Ducale, a work from the17th-Century and residence of the Court of Este until it became the seat of the prestigious Modena Military Academy.
The Parochial Church of St. Francis, one of the oldest Franciscan churchs; the Gallery of Art of Modena in the Parco Ducale, the so-called Palazzo dei Musei hosting the rich d’Este Library and Gallery, one of the most important Italian artistic collections; the Church of Santa Maria della Pomposa, dating to circa 1100; and the Church of St. Joseph, also referred to as the Tempio or Temple.
The restructured St. Vincent’s Church is host to the funereal monuments of the House of Este. As in Bologna, Modena also boasts its own notable university tradition: l'Università degli Studi di Modena and Reggio Emilia was founded in 1175.
Modena and Ferrari are inextricably bound: here Enzo Ferrari himself was born, and it is nearby, in Maranello where resides the headquarters of glorious Ferrari car racing team that he founded.
Modena is also the birthplace of internationally-beloved opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.
In Modena, d'Este Week takes place every June, reevoking the noble and festive atmosphere of the Court of the 16th Century.