Modena - The Palazzo Comunale, Piazza Grande*, the market

* UNESCO World Heritage (Piazza Grande)

The town hall – the Palazzo Comunale, whose bulk rises next to the Cathedral and the Torre Ghirlandina, is the result of a fusion between various buildings, the first of which is documented as dating from 1046. Over the course of the centuries numerous other buildings were joined on to this until they created a set of structures which were finally linked in the seventeenth century by a portico whose latter part is nineteenth century. The current Torre dell'Orologio clock-tower rises in place of the bell-tower which once functioned as the town hall. The statue of the Virgin Mary, placed on the balcony, is eighteenth century, even if it has only found itself on the Torre dell'Orologio since 1805.

Another small female sculpture decorates the angle of the building on Via Castellaro: this is the image of the Bonissima, a Romanesque work which watches the people of Modena from the corner of the Palazzo Comunale. Some see her as the portrait of a noble, generous Lombard, some as the famous Matilde di Canossa; but in reality, La Bonissima is a representation of Good Judgement. The presence of this emblem of correct measure is explained by the fact that, as witnessed by the Modenese measurements carved into the apses of the Cathedral (the Brick, the Fathom, the Perch and the Cup), Piazza Grande was always home to market stalls, until 1931, the year when the nearby Albinelli market was built, a meeting place to go shopping, to find fresh quality products typical of the local area.

Inside the Palazzo Comunale, where it is possible to visit the historic rooms, we are welcomed by one of the symbols of the city: the Secchia Rapita, a simple wooden bucket ennobled by the mock heroic poem of the same name which, written by the Modenese Alessandro Tassoni in 624, draws inspiration from facts which really happened. During the battle of Zappolino in 1325, the Modenese routed the Bolognese, chasing them right back inside their city, and when they stopped to slake their thirst by drinking from a well, they stole its bucket as a war trophy to bear witness to their exploits. Since then it has been kept in Modena with all honours.

To the right opens up the Sala del Fuoco which the famous Nicolò dell'Abate decorated in 1546 with stories of the siege of the city of Mutina, the Roman Modena, which took place in 44 BC, and of the second Triumvirate. To the left is to be found the Sala del Vecchio Consiglio where, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Bartolomeo Schedoni and Ercole dell'Abate painted subjects exalting good government and love for the motherland, the miracle of St Geminianus, portrayed also in the large canvas by Ludovico Lana from 1634 while he prays to the Madonna del Rosario to save Modena from the plague.

We then find the eighteenth century Sala degli Arazzi – whose tapestries narrate the period of greatest municipal splendour of Modena, at the time of the Peace of Constance, while the Sala dei Matrimoni, adorned with numerous portraits and other paintings, is the work of Adeodato Malatesta, the head of the Modenese school of art in the nineteenth century.

Returning to the Piazza, near the Palazzo Comunale, a curious monument is to be found: a large squared-off block of marble, probably of Roman workmanship, placed here during the construction of the Cathedral. Its name, preda ringadora, dialect for haranguing stone, comes from the fact that here, in the past, it was possible to freely harangue the public, as if from a stage. But it was also the place of public executions and punishments: in fact, in order to avoid prison, on market days insolvent debtors had to run around the piazzas three times with their head shaved, and on every round, jump up and sit down on the stone – which was covered in turpentine – without their trousers on.

ComuneModena - 41100 (MO)

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