Modena’s name is already a clue to its past as the Etruscan Mutna and Roman Mutina. The flourishing Roman Mutina cannot however be sensed by those walking through the streets in its historic centre. Mutina is in fact a buried city: the thick layers of alluvial sediment that covered it between late ancient times and the Medieval period largely hid the vestiges of the Roman age.
In the same period, the ancient Roman province of Aemilia was hit by the wave of invasions by the Lombards. It was only in the eighth-ninth century that the city again flourished around the tomb of Saint Geminianus.
The Middle Ages in Modena is evident in its Cathedral, a triumph of Romanesque architecture and the work of sublime artists like Lanfranco and Wiligelmo. The community decided to build the cathedral and sustained most of the relative expenses. The support of Matilde di Canossa was also important, having been invited in 1106 to the transfer of the body of Saint Geminiano to the cathedral. It was probably Matilda, benefactress of the church and religious buildings throughout the whole province and territory of Modena, to call on Lanfranco, or to at least have recommended him to the people of Modena. In 1997, the Cathedral, the Ghirlandina Belltower and Piazza Grande were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Numerous buildings have been merged over the centuries to make one single complex, namely the Palazzo Municipale, the seat of public decision-making and of the local government.
With the arrival of the Este family in Modena in 1598, it became a capital of State and the urban layout changed also to suit the needs of a new court. The magnificent Palazzo Ducale was an Este residence until Italian Unification, later becoming the seat of the prestigious Military Academy.
Este rule saw the erection of many Baroque churches, rich in artworks, paintings and stucco work, and the expansion of the collection of the Galleria Estense, set to be reopened on 29 May 2015, renovated and with more artworks on display, following its closure after the earthquake in the spring of 2012.
And it was still during Este rule that noble palaces were built and culture was promoted through music, theatre and painting.
The whole province boasts a wealth of Romanesque churches and hostels, places of worship and rest for pilgrims travelling from many parts of Europe, along the Via Romea and the Via Bibulca which were linked to the Via Francigena.
Modena is a place where many people and artists have passed, leaving their mark on the city and the entire province. In Frignano, the centre of important routes since antiquity, the Friniati Ligures heroically resisted the Roman Legion, leaving an indelible imprint on the settlements and the culinary culture, like the celtic-ligure sun symbol made on the traditional local disk-shaped bread. The “castellieri”, the settlements of this people around the original nucleus of Pavullo, precede the defensive system of Matilde di Canossa: Gaiato, Montecuccolo, Montecenere and Roccapelago. This complex is joined by the Pievi, the social framework of the contado, one of the most important being the Pieve di Renno.
In the 8th century, the Lombards founded the Ospitale di Fanano, while Beatrice, mother of Matilde di Canossa, is associated with the Abbey of Frassinoro.
Nonantola, the heart of a system of canals and waterways that allows access to the river Po and later to the sea, boasts Roman and pre-Roman findings and owes its fortune to the Benedictine Abbey founded by the Lombard Anselmo.
Carpi’s origins date back to prehistory and was founded as a stronghold (castrum Carpi) in the Early Middle Ages, and from the 14th century was the seat of Pio seigniory, to then become part of the Este dominions in the 16th century.
Sassuolo stands in an area that has been highly populated since antiquity, thanks to its position in the centre of a system of thermal springs; in ancient times there was the temple of Minerva in Montegibbio, while today there remains the Salvarola spring, and the city became, from the 17th century, the property of the Este family.
Modena is a city that has evolved, boasting contemporary architecture of major interest, such as the MEF (Enzo Ferrari Museum), the Cemetery of Aldo Rossi and the Church of Gesù Redentore by Mauro Galantino, buildings that express innovative concepts of space and location.