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  >  Cultural Experiences   >  48 Hour Guide to Modena, Italy
Piazza Grande

When you think of Italy, the first places that come to mind are probably Venice, Rome, or Florence but not Modena. Located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy is a charming small city called Modena, rich in history, delicious food, and fast cars.

As we were making our way back home to Turkey, we decided to stop in Modena. After a bit of research before arriving, I discovered that this region of Italy has some of the country’s richest history dating back to the 3rd century BC. Later it became an important city to the Romans due to its central location between coastlines.

Modena lies in-between Bologna and Parma and is centrally located, equal distance to the country’s east and west coast. Modena is the largest city in the region with a population of 184,000 and is an essential economic powerhouse due to the car manufacturing business.

Modena is most famous for manufacturing Italian sports cars (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, and Maserati), the birthplace of the famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and home to the oldest vinegar producing facilities, the Cavedoni Balsamic Vinegar, that has been making balsamic vinegar since 1860.

Modena presents a wide variety of attractions and incredible museums, making it a popular destination in Northern Italy.

This a lovely walking city, so let’s get going.

SIGHTSEEING

Cathedral of Modena

The Cathedral of Modena is a masterpiece of the Romantic style architecture built in 1099, dedicated to St. Maria Assunta, and is located near Piazza Grande. The church was completed in 1319 and is the historic centerpiece of the city. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring some of the most stunning architecture work ever created with motifs evoking the struggles of human life.

You will see three wooden doorways with circular stained glasses and two marble lion statues as you enter the church. Within the door, frames are figures depicting patriarchs and prophets announcing the birth of Jesus Christ. Please take a moment to observe the detailed work as it is genuinely fascinating considering the period in which it was built.

Wiligelmo was the famous sculptor who created many of the motifs and imaginary creates seen throughout the Cathedral. The sculptured woodwork is stunning to observe throughout the parish.

Cahtedral Modena

From the 12th to 14th century, the Campionesi Masters continued the work on the church, creating the large rose window, two lateral doors, and the stunning “Porta Regia,” which stands out due to rose color marble. Marble pulpit and parapet, just above the entrance of the Crypt, were also built by the Campionesi Masters.

The structure itself is a true “stone Bible” staging the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah’s Ark. You could spend hours inside viewing the storytelling walls and artwork.

Beneath the church is the tomb of San Geminianus,  whom the church is dedicated to and is the city’s patron saint.

  • Hours: 7:00 – 12:30 then 15:30 – 19:00
  • Admission: Free

Cathedral Museum of Modena

The museum is divided into two sections: the Lapidary Museum, a collection of artifacts from the construction site of the Cathedral, and other remains from prior structures that were once at the site. In addition, the Duomo Museum exhibits sacred decorations and furnishings from the church.

    • Hours: Tue. – Sun. 9:30 – 12:30 then 15:30 – 18:30
    • Admission: 4 EUR

Piazza Grande

Founded in the 12th century as Piazza Grande (del Duomo) but was changed in the 17th century to the Piazza Grande. Framed by the Cathedral of Modena, the Ghirlandina Tower, and the City Hall, serving many functions over the years, such as a market, public courthouse (legal matters were conducted in the Piazza), carnivals, and political rallies.

Ghirlandina Tower

Alongside the Cathedral is the Ghirlandina Tower, standing 86 meters high, built in 1179, a city symbol.  It is the tallest structure in the city and has served as a “lookout” for the people of Modena. Originally built as a bell tower of the Cathedral, it has held various functions over time. This site is all listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you look closely at the exterior walls, you will find a string of decorative arches with figures of medieval animals and human figures holding up the arches. Climb to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the city.

  • Hours: Tue. – Fri. 9:30 – 13:00, 13:00- 15:00 (every 30 min.); Sat., Sun. and holidays: 9:30 – 19:00 (every 30 minutes). Schedule changes from Oct. – March.
  • Admission: 3 EUR per person. Reservation is mandatory. Book Online, Telephone: 0592032660, Email info@visitmodena.it

Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall)

The Town Hall, located in Piazza Grande, is a 17th-century building with arcades and a beautiful staircase leading to the historic halls of the governmental offices. Paintings by Adeodato Malatesta are hanging in the galleries depicting the arms of Modena. A place to visit and learn about the history of the city as well as admiring local artists.

  • Hours: Mon. – Fri. 9:00 – 18:00; Sat. 13:00 – 15:00, Sun. 15:15, 16:00,17:30, 18:15; reservation is mandatory.
  • Admission: Free except on Sunday. The fee for Sunday is 2 EUR per person.

Santa Maria delle Assi Church

The church name derives from a bridge that once stood near the church when Corso Canal Grande was a canal (Assi in Italian means boards). Church of Santa Maria delle Assi was initially built in the 12th century and later was restored at the beginning of the 19th century.

The interior has one nave with six chapels designed in bright colors and elegant altars made in scagliola. On the exterior of the bell tower is a fresco of the Virgin’s Coronation painted by an anonymous artist in the 17th century.

Church of St. Maria delle Assi

The Palace Museum

Duke Francesco III ordered the construction of this Palace, which today is home to the Palace Museum, originally built as a hotel for the poor. However, Duke Ercole III decided to transform it into a hotel for art in 1788, where the youth could be educated in the study of the Arts.

Palace Museum is divided into several sub-museums: Estense Gallery, the Estense University Library, the Giuseppe Graziosi Plaster Cast Gallery, the Modena Municipal Historical Archives, the Roman Lapidary of the Civic Museums, and the Luigi Poletti Civic Art Library.

Enzo Ferrari Museum

The luxury sports car Ferrari was created by a native of Modena, Enzo Ferrari. Inside the museum, you will find a captivating collection of Ferrari sports cars produced over the decades.

The museum is split into two areas. The garage is where you will find a collection that once belonged to Alfredo Ferrari, Enzo’s father. Another exhibit shares the life and work of Enzo, as well as interesting films, photos, and other ideas that inspired his love for cars.

  • Hours: Oct-March 10:00 – 18:00, Apr. – Sept. 9:30 – 19:00
  • Admission: 17 EUR; combination ticket to Maranello + Modena 24 EUR. Online tickets can be purchased but must indicate the date and time of visit.
  • Requirement: Entering is only permitted to holders of COVID-19 Green Certificates in either digital or print form, and the holder has received one dose of vaccine within 15 days; is vaccinated; has a negative PCR or rapid antigen test within 48 hours.
Ferrari Museum

Piazza Roma

Modena has several ornate and decorative squares that have a great deal of charm and character. The Piazza Roma is one such square and can be found at the front of the Ducal Palace.

At the far side of the Piazza is the mighty Ducal Palace which also has a spot in this top 15 list, while surrounding the other sides are a series of old buildings fitted with arched walkways.

A plethora of shops and a couple of cafes line these arches. There is a water pool in the center of the Piazza and a series of beautiful water jets/fountains. Furthermore, a statue of Ciro Menotti, who was seen as a revolutionary figure of Italy during the 1800s.

Piazza Roma

Ducal Palace

Ducal Palace was the seat of Estense Court between the 17th until the 19th centuries, serving as a residence for the Este Dukes of Modena.

The Palace was built starting from 1634, a Baroque façade with hundreds of windows lined the walls and marble columns with beautiful arched doorways.

Today, the Palace is home to the Italian Military Academy. Military ceremonies and performances are hosted here often.

  • Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00. Reservations are required by Wednesday before your visit.
  • Admission: 25 EUR per person. Book online or email info@visitmodena.it. All those that enter must follow Green Pass and have documents. Guided tours are generally Italian, but you can request English, French, German, or Spanish.
Ducal Palace

Church of San Francesco of Assisi

The Emilian Gothic-style structure is one of the many historic churches in Modena. The original Church of San Francesco of Assisi was built at the beginning of 1244 and took more than two hundred years to complete.

From the outside, the church is simple in design with several arched windows, stunning circular stained-glass windows, and a doorway with a fresco of Franciscan Friars.

The interior has three naves. One of the naves is Antonio Begarelli’s masterpiece called Deposition of Christ from the Cross features thirteen terracotta figurines. The ceiling is beautifully painted in a colorful design.

Church of St. Francis
Church of St. Francis of Assisi

Luciano Pavarotti House Museum

Luciano Pavarotti is one of the most well-known opera singers in the world and is monumental to the city of Modena. With over 100 million records sold proving how much fans loved him still today.

The museum was once his home where he lived until his last years and is open to the public, showcasing all his memorabilia, such as the extravagant costumes he wore on stage and the endless awards received during his stellar career.

  • Hours: Every day from 10:00 – 18:00; Reservations are not mandatory.
  • Admission: 10 EUR
Luciano Pavarotti House
credit: youtube.com

Luciano Pavarotti Municipal Theatre of Modena

Opened in 1841, Lucian Pavarotti Theatre is the main opera house in Modena. The interior of the theater is quite beautiful with old-world charm. The theatre has 116 boxes on four levels. Some of the most famous opera performers have been featured here, such as Mirella Freni, Raina Kabaivnska, and Pavarotti.

  • Attend a Performances: Visit the website for details of dates and performances.
Luciano Pavarottie Theater
credit: luciano pavarotti municipal theater

Saint Peter’s Church

The Monastery and Saint Peter’s Church are in central Modena and are still active Benedictine monasteries. Founded in 996, it is one of the oldest monasteries in Modena.

On the exterior of the church is an interesting depiction of secular images of hippocamps and winged satyrs. On the church’s interior, you will find terracotta sculptures, engraved choir benches, and stunning frescos, all created by local artists.

St. Peter's Church

Umberto Panini Motor Museum

The private museum is a fantastic display of vintage cars and a complete collection of Maserati’s. Interestingly, the Panini family chose to house the collection on a parmesan cheese dairy farm. In addition to the collection of cars, you will also see vintage motorcycles, collector bicycles, and military vehicles.

Hours: Reservation required. Mon. – Fri. 9:00 – 12:30 and 14:30 – 18:00; Sat. 9:00 – 12:30; Closed Sundays.

Things to Do in Modean Video

Albinelli Market

One of our most favorite spots in Modena was the Albinelli Market, with stalls selling produce, meat, bread, cheese, and restaurants serving freshly cooked seasonal dishes. Established in 1931, Albinelli Market is the oldest covered market in Modena.

Intriguingly, in the center of the market is a fountain surmounted by a sculpture of a beautiful woman. The Art Nouveau style market makes it a major attraction to Modena.

As we strolled the market, my husband quickly made friends with a man selling parmesan cheese. After many samples and long discussions about cheese, we loaded up with several kinds of cheese (a few gifts for friends back home.).

  • Hours: Mon. – Sat. 7:00 – 15:00 and on Sat. open until 19:00.
Albinelli Market
Albinelli Market
Albenelli Market

San Bartolomeo (Bartholomew’s Church)

San Bartolomeo Church is one of the biggest in this province and was built by the Jesuits between 1607-1629. As you enter the church, you will see a large canvas depicting the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew. On the ceiling of the nave is a fresco that depicts Apotheosis of the Divine. One of the most relevant paintings is by Father Giuseppe Barbieri, covering the entire vault.

St. Bartholomew Church

Giuseppe Giusti Balsamic Vinegar

Modena is home to numerous producers of balsamic vinegar, but I highly suggest you visit Giuseppe Giusti Balsamic Vinegar, known to be the finest balsamic vinegar in Modena. This has been a family business for over 400 years, and you can taste it in the richness of their products.

Visit the Giusti Museum to learn about the production of grapes, tools used over centuries, the bottling process, and the memorabilia passed on from generations. Book your guided tour to the museum and enjoy the tasting room of Giusti products.

 If you don’t have time to visit the museum, you can stop at the store located on Piazza Grande across from the Cathedral of Modena. Your tastebuds will be tantalized from aged balsamic to new innovative creations.

Balasmic Viengar

Sweet Tooth Visit to Antica Pasticceria San Biagio

Torta Barozzi was created in 1886, also called black cake. This dense flourless cake is made up of dark chocolate, peanuts, almonds, and coffee grounds. The treasured dessert is still made from a centuries-old recipe and is popular among locals.

As we walked the streets of Modena in search of the ‘Torta Barozzi’ we came upon Antica Pasticceria San Biagio, one of Modena’s oldest pastry shops. The small shop has been producing traditional pastry in Modena since the beginning of the 20th century and is popular with locals.

Behind a showcase glass, this pastry shop were shelves of Modenese traditional sweets such as apple strudel or the famous Marrons Glacés, candied chestnuts glazed with sugar syrup, and the most famous Torta Barozzi. In addition, we learned that another traditional pastry is Torte Della Rose, or a cake of roses, a small, sweet cake made to resemble a rose eaten with coffee or tea.

Purchasing a Torta Barozzi, we were eager to indulge in this chocolate dessert that tasted much like a brownie. Yummy!

Antica Pasticceria
Antica Pasticceria
Torte Antica Pasticceria

TOUR OPTIONS

  • Modena offers many guided tours depending on your interest.
  • A Parmesan cheese factory tour teaches how raw milk is turned into cheese and aged to become the delicious Parmigiano Reggiano.
  • If you are interested in a more tailored Modena food tour, check out Emilia Storytellers, where you will learn about the foods from the region and hear the stories of the passionate Italians and the history of the lands.

HELPFUL TIPS AND TOURS

  • Tourist Information: Salzburg Tourist offices can be found at Mozartplatz 5 and the train station.
  • Purchase the Salzburg Card depending on your length of stay (24, 48, or 72 hours). The card can be used for public transportation in the city. Also, you can find some great itinerary ideas of things to do in Salzburg. The card’s benefits allow one-time admission to places such as Hohensalzburg Fortress, Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountain, Mozart’s Birthplace, the Museum of Modern Art, and more. Visit the website or stop at the central train station to make your purchase.
  • Here is a trusted website with a large selection of TOURS AND TICKETS FOR ACTIVITIES IN SALZBURG.
  • Take an Amadeus Cruise on the River Salzach. You will see the city from a different perspective and learn more about its history and highlights along the way.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Ristorante Antica Moka
  • Osteria Ermes
  • Osteria Santa Chiara

WHERE TO STAY

Depending on your budget, you will have many options in accommodations. Staying near the city center gives you easy and quick access to all the major attractions. Here are a few recommendations to consider:

  • Salotto Della Arti is elegantly designed in the city center furnished with antique furnishings.
  • RMH Modena Des Arts is a modern-style hotel located on the city’s outskirts, about five minutes from the city center.
  • Emilia Studios is aparthotel located near Palazzo Ducale di Modena. Small but cozy in less than 10 minutes walking to the city center.
  • Ostello San Filippo Neri is a hostel located in the center city. The rooms are comfortable, offer free WiFi and have a communal living space, shared kitchen, and outdoor patio.
  • Hotel Rua Frati 48 is a five-star hotel, walking distance to all the attractions. It is elegantly furnished, offering a luxury spa with a hot tub and sauna, as well as a bar and restaurant.

Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.

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Happy Travels!

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