Christmas lights in Modena, ItalyModena occupies a sweet spot in the heartland of Emilia Romagna, Italy’s breadbasket and economic engine. With many kilometers of cycling paths, a compact city center, and superb food to fit any traveler’s budget, the little city has long been on my bucket list of Italian places to go.  Last week, I had the good fortune to spend several days there. The city was tastefully decorated for Christmas and the main sights were all within walking distance of my hotel, along arcaded streets blessed with options for good espresso. 

The city’s virtues for the curious traveler are many. Its medieval heart is a superb example of architecture from the 12th century, a time in which religious and civic values were united in a Christian city. The Dukes of Este held court in Modena for almost five hundred years, and left their mark on the city’s architecture, arts and cuisine. Automobile innovator Enzo Ferrari and acclaimed operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti were both Modena native sons.

Piazza Grande and Palazzo Comunale in Modena, Italy
The Piazza Grande is the soul of the medieval city center. It is ringed by the cathedral, the Ghirlandia Tower and here, the Town Hall. Townsfolk were once punished for their misdeeds on the pillary, which stood atop the stone “table” lower left.
Duomo, Modena in Italy
Modena’s cathedral, the Duomo, designed by Lanfranco and decorated by Wiligelmo, is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque architecture (with some Gothic additions).
Bas-relief, Duomo, Modena, Italy
The Duomo’s facade features bas-reliefs telling stories from Genesis, such as Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Lintel decoration, Duomo in Modena, Italy
The rear entrance to the Duomo opens onto the old market square, and its lintel pays homage to tradesmen.
Ghirlandia, Modena, Italy
The Ghirlandia is the symbol of Modena, a civic tower locally named for the “garland” of balustrades crowning its spire.
Interior of the Modena Town Hall
Inside Palazzo Comunale, the Town Hall, frescoes tell stories of Modena. These 16th century frescoes by Nicolò dell’Abate decorate the walls of Sala del Fuoco (Fire Room), with scenes of the Battle of Modena in 42 BC.
Ducal Palace in Modena
The Baroque Ducal Palace on the Piazza Roma was built for Italy’s powerful Este family. It now houses Modena’s military academy.
Museo Enzo Ferrari, Modena, Italy
A recent addition to the museum scene in Modena is the Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari, dedicated to the designer’s life and work. The airy exhibition space is topped by soaring yellow panels.

Modena is a great place to experience world-class Parmigiano-Reggiano, Lambrusco wine, and above all, the region’s signature product, aceto balsamico tradizionale. The gastronomic delights of the region merit their own post. For now, here is a sampler.

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Balsamic vinegar
Christmas display
Balsamic vinegar barrels
Balsamic vinegar tasting

More about Emilia Romagna

Modena, Italy – your next food adventure?

Super Zampone: Over the Top in Emilia Romagna

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Grazie mille! to Emilia Romagna Tourism for hosting my stay in Modena, Italy. Impressions and opinions, as ever, are my own.

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