The Middle Ages and the Renaissance are still alive in Modena and its province in the form of hamlets, castles and forts, taking you back to centuries when battles between families, towns and seignories required structures capable of resisting against attacks.
Still intact is the Rocca di Vignola, which belonged to the Contrari family, feudal lords of the House of Este, and was later transformed into a Renaissance residence rich in decoration and frescoes.
In Spilamberto, the Rocca Rangoni, once the summer residence of the Rangoni Marquises, is the property of the municipality and home to the “Corte del gusto” which promotes outstanding local food and wine products such as traditional Balsamic vinegar from Modena.
Nearby is the hamlet of Savignano sul Panaro, the venue in summer for a historical re-enactment of the Palio between six wards to win the “Spada dei Contrari” (the Contrari Sword), recalling the investiture of the fief of Savignano to Uguccione Contrari.
The hamlet of Castelvetro di Modena is the annual stage for the “Dama vivente”, a game of draughts held on the chequerboard paving of the central town square, with people dressed in Renaissance costume playing the part of the pieces.
Once the need for defensive systems had passed, the castles and forts were readapted for public or residential use. Thus on the lower hills you can admire Formigine Castle, renovated and home to the Castle Multimedia Museum, which offers a journey from the Middle Ages right up to the present day.
Standing on the foothills of the Apennines is Montegibbio Castle surrounded by an evocative English garden.
Set inside a romantic nineteenth century garden, you can admire the elegant Spezzano Castle, home to the Ceramic Museum.
Steeped in age-old history dating from the time of Matilda of Tuscany to the Rangoni family, Levizzano Castle stands on the hills amidst the vineyards of Lambrusco Grasparossa.
Once the summer residence of the Montecuccoli Marquises, Guiglia Castle is set in breathtakingly beautiful and natural surroundings.
The birthplace of General Raimondo Montecuccoli, Montecuccolo Castle stands in the town of Pavullo nel Frignano, with its walled village, now home to museums and exhibitions.
A former fief of the Montecuccoli family, the Rocca di Montese once protected and defended the upper Panaro valley.
The Rocca di Montefiorino, erected at the behest of the Montecuccoli family, was transferred to the House of Este and was the seat in 1944 of the Republic of Montefiorino, the first area in the north to be freed by the partisans.
Sestola Castle, an important Este stronghold in Frignano, dominates the town and the valleys of the Leo and Scoltenna rivers.
Again in Frignano, the private Monfestino Castle hosts a historical re-enactment in summer time.
Perched on a spur dominating the Pelago valley is Roccapelago Castle, the ancient home of condottiero Obizzo di Montegarullo, which now hosts a museum and non-human mummies found beneath the church.
Palazzo dei Pio, on the plain north of the city, is of particular interest, with its towers, fortifications and keeps built in different eras of the ancient castle, the oldest being the Passerino Tower.
In Soliera, Campori Castle, once belonging to the Campori Marquises who used it as a holiday residence, is now the property of the municipality and home to the Campori Library.
Also situated on the lower plain of the province of Modena, in Finale Emilia and in San Felice sul Panaro are Este forts, damaged by the earthquake in 2012.
In Mirandola, Pico Castle is famous as the birthplace of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, philosopher and humanist famous for his incredible memory.
Modena was also home to a castle originally built by Obizzo II d'Este, but later encapsulated in the Palazzo Ducale erected at the behest of Francesco I d'Este for the court in the new capital city.