Modena - MO
The itinerary leads the visitor along Via Emilia, the great Roman artery that crosses the city and still visibly demonstrates its importance in the evolution of the close bond between the monuments and history of the centre.
Because of the particular geomorphic position where Modena was founded (located between two watercourses, the Tiepido and the Fossa Formigine) and the consequent continual floods, the Roman archaeological layers are buried at a depth of six to eight metres.
The original layout of Modena cannot be distinguished perfectly. In fact, while the most important Roman east-west road is clearly identifiable as Via Emilia, the main north-south road, identified as Rua Pioppa, is certainly not one of the main streets today.
The orthogonal layout of the city, which extended towards Piazza Garibaldi, is barely recognisable.
The forum was probably located between Rua Pioppa and Viale Martiri della Libertà, while now the whole civic centre has been moved to the west.
The huge amount of Roman remains recovered over the centuries and in part recycled also for construction of the cathedral, a real temple of the city’s memory, allow us to understand how much Modena’s Roman past is alive in the city’s culture and tradition.
Coming from the west along the Via Emilia you can park your car in Largo Porta S.Agostino and then continue on foot along Via Emilia.
The closer you get to the centre the clearer it will become that this street is still a vital thoroughfare for the city, as it has been since the beginning.
Just after Piazza Matteotti, turn right into Corso Duomo and after few metres you will be opposite the facade of the Duomo, one of the most important Romanic monuments in Italy.
The sculptures by WILIGELMO that decorate the facade and the central door depict sacred and profane objects, harmoniously blending the stories of Genesis, the prophets, and representations of daily life and of nature.
What makes this monument a "temple of history" is the fact that Roman-era remains were reused in the present building. The two lions that support the pillars of the central door, known as the Porta Maggiore, provide an example of this.
The Duomo (Cathedral)deserves an extended visit, exploring its sides and apses, decorated with arches, motifs in small loggias, and capitals.
If you begin your round from the right and approach from Calle dei Campionesi, on the outside wall of the transept of the same name you can see Roman gravestone slabs, these too used as construction materials.
The Roman past is not confined to the outside of the building: come in and look at the fonts: they were made from classical capitals.
From the left side of the facade turn into Vicolo Lanfranco, where you will find the two Duomo museums, whose precious contents are worth examining at length.
From Vicolo Lanfranco you go into Piazza Grande and pass next to the Ghirlandina, the bell tower that is the symbol of the city. Piazza Grande, steeped in the tradition of the Roman centre, is also the location of an imposing political building, the Palazzo Comunale (City Hall), begun in 1194 and enlarged in 1624.
It too has a tower, known as the Clock Tower.
In addition to the religious and political spirit of Piazza Grande there is also a commercial aspect. At the foot of the Ghirlandina stalls selling handicrafts and art products are set up periodically.
From Piazza Grande continue along Via dell'Università.
Around the corner, where the Capitol cinema stands now, the archaeological remains of a Roman domus very similar to the houses of Pompeii have been found.
The house was on Via Emilia and overlooked a canal (which ran along what is now the Canal Grande).
It had a large courtyard with various rooms looking out into it; the objects discovered there are exhibited at Civic Archaeological Museum.
Turn right and walk around the semicircle formed by Via Canalino and by Via Mondatora and Via dei Servi on the right: the curious shape of the streets and the discovery in Via S. Geminiano of a large wall with decorative architectural features suggests that an ancient amphitheatre may be buried beneath. To test this theory bore holes were drilled through the cellars of the buildings in this street in 1940.
This demonstrated the presence of "a continual series of obstacles at decreasing depth", showing that the auditorium steps of the amphitheatre probably still exist beneath the layers left by the floods.
After crossing Piazza XX Settembre turn left into Via Albinelli: various investigations carried out especially near the fountain of the covered market have brought to light traces of the ancient city walls in this area.
What is more, in the same area a burial ground of a subsequent era has been found.
This extended as far as Piazza Grande, a sign of the decline of the city after the crisis of the empire.
From Via Albinelli turn right and continue straight on crossing Corso Canal Chiaro until you reach Via S. Agostino and the church of the same name (1235-1663).
Next to the church you will find Palazzo dei Musei (the museum building).
Inside the Civic Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, in addition to various exhibits from the pre-protohistoric and Etruscan era you can also admire furnishings and ornaments from the domus in Via Università, as well as numerous other findings from the Roman era.
Still in the same building but at the Estense Lapidary Museum you can see the fragmented statue of emperor Flavio Valerio Costanzo, found between Rua Pioppa and Viale Martiri where the forum of Mutina is thought to have been located.
From the museum building you can return to the car park.