Modena is a friendly city, with an interesting history and plenty of modern creations, where visitors can discover ancient flavours and music on the city theatres. The historical centre recalls the greatness of the House of Este, thanks to whom Modena became State Capital from the end of the sixteenth-century to 1859. The emblem of all this magnificence is Palazzo Ducale, designed by the architect Avanzini on which other architects also worked, including Vigarani and Soli. Since the Unification of Italy, this building has been home to the prestigious Military Academy.
The centre of Modena is based around the Via Emilia, as in the past the Roman city developed along the consular road, whose construction in 187 BC preceded foundation of the Modena colony by a few years (183 BC). Remains and monuments from the Roman city can be admired in the Museum of Archaeology , in the Estense Lapidary Museum and the Roman Epigraphic Museum, which houses the monumental altar of Vetilia Egloge.
An old Roman road can be walked along by visitors to the NoviArk archaeology park, after the latter was created following digs in the Novi Sad area during building of an underground carpark.
The Palazzo dei Musei is also home to the Estense Gallery, which houses masterpieces such as works by Begarelli, Correggio, Guido Reni, El Greco, Guercino and Tintoretto and also musical instruments, jewels and other articles. Outstanding exhibits include a bust of Francesco I d’Este by Bernini and a portrait of the Duke of Velasquez.
The Estense Library, also inside the Palazzo dei Musei, preserves the priceless Bible of Borso d’Este and illuminated codices, maps, prints, drawings and precious illustrated texts.
Again in the Palazzo dei Musei there are the Civic Museums, with archaeological findings from prehistory to medieval times and works of art to the twentieth century following a nineteenth-century layout reworked in a modern key, the "Luigi Poletti" Library with books on history of art and architecture and the Municipal Historical Archives, full of interesting ancient documents.
In addition to the traditional colour of the houses in shades of yellow, old rose and ochre, the white of monuments stands out in the ancient heart of the historical centre: the Cathedral and the Ghirlandina. These masterpieces, together with Piazza Grande, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and date back to medieval times. The Cathedral, one of the most beautiful and elegant from the European Romanesque period, is a book of stone where the architecture of Lanfranco and the sculpture of Wiligelmo communicate symbolic messages of faith and hope to citizens and the faithful.
The Piazza ends with a complex of civic buildings, constructed over the centuries which have merged to become a big single building, Palazzo Comunale, the address for several municipal offices. Inside are paintings, tapestries that give symbolic messages recalling civic and moral virtues.
Modena has a good number of churches, full of masterpieces, from the oldest Santa Maria della Pomposa in the square of the same name that is the heart of Modena’s nightlife, to Baroque churches such as San Biagio, Sant’Agostino, called the Pantheon of the Estensi, through to San Vincenzo where the Este family tombs are. The San Pietro abbey complex is particularly interesting, including the Abbey full of works of art like that of Begarelli and a Benedictine monastery with beautiful cloisters open to the general public and the old dispensary, stocked with products made following ancient recipes.
Modena is an industrious city and the business adventure of characters like the Panini brothers is testified to by the Museum of Stickers, unique for the quantity and quality of the materials: footballers, Hollywood stars, unusual animals and more.
Modena also means contemporary art, with temporary exhibits in the Civic Gallery, on display at Palazzo Santa Margherita and Palazzina dei Giardini Ducali. The Foro Boario houses photography exhibitions by the Fondazione Fotografia.
Just a few minutes from the train station and the historical centre is the MEF, the Enzo Ferrari Museum, a modern building in the shape of a yellow aluminium car bonnet that houses the cars that have written the History of Ferrari and its founder, explained in videos and multimedia effects. It is also home to temporary exhibitions. This museum is linked to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, a must-visit for car fanatics.