Located in Emilia-Romagna, Modena has a history that goes back 2600 years. The Etruscans founded it around 600 BC as Muoina, then the Romans took over the region, and in 187 BC, laid out Via Emilia, the straight Roman road that connects Rimini on the Adriatic Sea with Piacenza, the old Roman Garrison town in the Po Valley. Bolstered by the new road, Muoina was made a Roman colony in 183 BC, was renamed Mutina, and saw a long period of prosperity. Although the town began to decline with the fall of the Empire and Barbaric invasions, it was a great flood that destroyed it in the 7th century AD.
A street in Modena with Ghirlandina Tower
Modena was consequently all but abandoned and forgotten until it was slowly repopulated two centuries later. In the 11th century, it became part of the possessions of the Tuscan countess Matilde di Canossa, under whose rule Modena began to flourish and the magnificent Romanesque cathedral was commissioned. From 1288 and until the Napoleonic invasion, Modena remained firmly under the rule of the House of Este. Originally based in Ferrara, the ruling family made Modena the capital of their Duchy in 1598, which signalled the beginning of yet another golden age for the city.
Located on the Piazza del Torre
Alessandro Tassoni was an Italian poet and writer from Modena
Torre dell'Orologio detail
Modena's superlative Duomo rises alongside the old Roman via Emilia. One of the regions greatest Romanesque buildings, it was founded in the 11th-century and dedicated to San Geminiano, the city's patron saint. One of the mot noticeable features is the Torre Ghirlandina, which leans perilously to one side. Unfortunately the main facade of the Duomo was covered in scaffolding, so we had to enter through the smaller, yet beautiful, back entrance of the Duomo.
The smaller entrance to the Duomo
Detail of a relief carving beside the Duomo doors
The reliefs on the facade of the Duomo are all the work of the 12th-century sculptor, Wigelmus. With its 86-metre bell tower, la Ghirlandina, the Duomo is one of the world's most important Romanesque cathedrals whose contribution to the development of church architecture in Europe is immeasurable. The structure's beauty and importance led the UNESCO in 1997 to add it to the list of World Heritage Sites. After the devastating earthquakes that shook the Modena, Ferrara and the Bologna region last year, the tower and portion of the Duomo are temporarily closed to allow for damage assessment. Although the tower remains closed, its white-marble facade, which was recently restored, still gleams brilliantly.
Looking up to the Torre Ghirlandia from the Duomo doors
The Duomo interior with a wood crucifix from the 14th-century
and ornately carved 'Tribuna' or rood screen
A carved lion at the base of one of the columns
A service was taking place in the Duomo while we were there,
so the sounds of the parish priest conducting mass echoed throughout
A row of candles
The beautiful polyptych, known as Incoronazione della Vergine
is by Serafino dei Serafini, dating from 1385
Detail of the polyptych
The impressive Duomo contains countless treasures which have been added over the centuries. At the end of the nave is a stunning rood screen and ambo, resting over columns supported by telamon and lion statues. The incredibly detailed Romanesque bas-reliefs covering them are the work of Anselmo da Campione and his successors, completed between the 12th and 13th centuries. Above the rood screen hangs a 14th century wooden crucifix, beyond which are the apses with their 19th-century colourful gilded frescoes resembling dazzling mosaics. The left hand apse contains a beautiful polyptych, known as 'Incoronazione della Vergine', by Serafino dei Serafini, dated 1385. The choir stalls made from inlaid wood are by Lorenzo and Cristoforo Canozi da Lendinaria, completed in 1465.
The second floor features a rounded apse with 19th-century gilded frescoes
resembling dazzling mosaics
Detail of the fresco
The bustling Mercato Albinelli, Modena's extraordinary covered Liberty-style marketplace on Via Albinelli, was created in 1931 to accommodate the market that had always been held in Piazza Grande. All types of produce is sold in the overflowing market stalls, with a wide range of typical and certified products, such as traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, Amaretti of Modena, the cherries of Vignola, Lambrusco doc of Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetro and Salamino di Santa Croce, crescentine, zampone and cotechino, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Modena ham, as well as more local specialities. At the centre of the market there's a small fountain with the statue of a child holding a fruit basket. The work is by the famous Modenese sculptor Giuseppe Graziosi, creator of the main fountains in the city, and amazingly, the grandfather of our hostess, the Contessa Maria Theresa Vespignelli!
The fabulous Modena Mercatelli
Fresh local Italian vegetables
Two of the market's fruit merchants
At the centre of the market is a small fountain with the statue of a child holding a fruit basket
by the famous Modenese sculptor Giuseppe Graziosi - amazingly, the grandfather
of our hostess, the Contessa Maria Theresa Vespignelli!
Prawns, squid, skate and so much more
Wonderful fresh pink tuna and local whole fish
Local produce such as Balsamico di Modena
Balsamic vinegar is known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (TBVM), or Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, or more simply called, "Tradizionale" in Italian. This Tradizionale is aged in various kinds of wooden barrels, oak, chestnut, mulberry, cherry, ash and juniper, each one lending a unique aroma and affecting the colour, from 12 to 25 years. Techniques and recipes for making this vinegar have been handed down through the centuries. Strict adherence to exacting codes of standards are monitored by the two consortia of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar producers - Modena and Reggio Emilia - and safeguard the authenticity and quality of every batch.
A charming fellow selling great shards of Parmigiano Reggiano
Tortelloni alla Zucca fatti a mano - handmade
Gnocchi, angolotti, tortelloni and more
Local dolci, such as a dessert made with Taglaiatelle
Fabulous meats and chickens that actually look like poultry - yellow skinned
and a few feathers still attached
Well, pork is 'King' in Emilia Romagna
On the second floor of a building across from the covered market, steps from the Piazza Grande, Ristorante Aldina is a simple, quintessentially typical Italian trattoria, where they serve region's crown jewels: tortellini in brodo, tagliatelle al ragù, and roast meats. Enjoyed with Lambrusco, as locals have for ages, we made sure to save room for their Zuppa Inglese, a layered sponge cake with custard.
The exterior of Aldina, just across from the market
Hidden away on the second floor, it seems only locals know where to find this little jewel
There is no written menu, just a sign highlighting the rough costs of a a meal
To begin, a bottle of Aqua Frizzante
And of course, a bottle of Lambrusco
A tiny restaurant, it was full of local Modenesi feasting on authentic dishes
Aldina's regional market-based dishes come from their very small kitchen
Tortellini in Brodo
Tagliatelle ai Ragu
Bolitto Misto with capon, tongue, pork and cotechino
The condiments which come with Bolitto Misto
A contorni, or side dish of Spinaci
And Patate Rosti
Aldina's Zuppa Inglese, a layered sponge cake with custard and chocolate
To finish, a Macchiato, in a very odd cup
Modena was also the home town of the famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavorotti and Enzo Ferrari. After our splendid lunch at Aldina, we headed out of Modena to the small town of Maranello, where the Museo Ferrari is located. Many of Ferrari's most iconic cars from throughout its history are on display in the museum, along with photographs, trophies and other historical objects relating to the Italian motor racing industry. The exhibition also introduces technological innovations, some of which had made the transition from racing cars to road cars as well as a great 20-minute long film following the history of Enzo Ferrari and the history of auto-racing. Not really a fan of the sport, the museum was fascinating, and a modern contrast to our day touring the Duomo, Albinelli Market and culinary delights at Ristorante Aldina.
Enzo Ferrari Museum
The main desk where tickets are sold to enter the museum
The 1947 model
Enzo Ferrari in the early days
Enzo Ferrari died in 1988 at the age of 90 years
The 1989 model
And the latest Ferrari prototype
Modena was home town of famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavorotti
- Luciano Pavarotti -
Luciano Pavorotti's love for food and wine almost equaled his love for music. The following recipe is Pavarotti’s own linguini recipe which he truly enjoyed almost as much as we’ve enjoyed his voice.
1 lb of linguini
2 tbsp of tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic, slices
1 cup of parsley, chopped
3/4 cup of olive oil
1 tbsp of red pepper flakes
1 cup of parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
In 6 quarts of boiling salted water cook the linguini until al dente, around 8 to 10 minutes. In a medium sized bowl mix together the remaining ingredients and toss into the linguini. Mangia!