Modena - Palazzo Ducale and the Este Botanical Garden

Towards the end of the thirteenth century, the township felt so disturbed by the never-ending squabbles between the Pope, the Emperor and the municipalities, and especially by the continuous infighting between factions, that, in 1288, representatives from the city’s most important families decided to offer Obizzo d'Este, the Marquis of Ferrara, dominion over Modena.

The Este built a castle in the city, where the Palazzo Ducale now sits. The choice of position, at that time the northernmost limit of the city walls, was not arbitrary:  the fortress was equidistant from the Duomo and the Palazzo Comunale, to symbolize the change made with the advent of the new ruler. Moreover, the position offered advantages also from a defensive point of view: this area was where all the canals which used to crisscross the city met in the Naviglio, the navigable canal which connected Modena to the river Panaro and then the Po, the waterway for Ferrara and the Adriatic sea.

The castle suffered from several destructions and reconstructions. In 1629, Francesco I, who had become duke at the tender age of 19, set in motion a mighty operation which included architects, town-planners, scenographers, painters and sculptors to completely renovate the appearance of the city and create a new palace fitting for the prestige of the Este family, to be built on the site of the historic castle. Since 1862, the Palazzo has been the Headquarters of the Accademia Militare, a school for Italian army officers and Carabinieri, and, consequently, visits are only permitted on certain days, and must be booked in advance.

The façade is completed by two side towers and a more imposing central one. The solemn entrance hall leads to the square Courtyard of Honour, surrounded by an elegant two-storey arcade, around which runs a marble balustrade. Ascending the majestic Staircase of Honour, inspired by the grand staircases of Rome, especially that of Palazzo Barberini, we reach the first floor with its historic rooms: The grand Salone d'Onore – with frescoes depicting Bradamante being crowned by Jupiter, a work by Marcantonio Franceschini of Bologna which glorifies the origins of the Este family – is the first of a series of interiors which converge on the Throne Room, a small area with a slightly irregular perimeter, which reveals how the Palace was built around the historic structures of the castle, incorporating it without demolishing it. From the Throne Room we then enter a small luxurious chamber: the so-called Salottino d'Oro, decorated with gilt panels carved with mythological figures in relief.

Priceless frescoes, plasterwork and paintings of princes and dukes enhance the other rooms. Adjoining the south side of the Palazzo are the Giardini Ducali – the Ducal Gardens – opened to the public in 1739 by Francesco III. On their perimeter is to be found the small building which, opened as a greenhouse and pleasure garden in 1634, underwent alterations in the 1700s and is currently used as a venue for contemporary art exhibitions organized by the Galleria Civica. On the eastern side of the Garden may be seen many rare plants from the Botanic Garden which dates back to 1758.

ComuneModena - 41100 (MO)

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