Every Italian city has its piazzas, public spaces with special charm where everyday life is always on stage. A bit like the pages of a great book, the story of each piazza links it to the others through the city’s history, art, politics, and social life.
Every day these spaces offer a chance to re-experience the past. With a little imagination, it isn’t difficult to hear the echoing beat of drums, the stamping of horses’ hooves, or shouts ringing through a crowded outdoor marketplace.
Take a walk and let yourself be captivated by the beauty of Modena’s piazzas and their fascinating history. This special excursion is designed to take you on a relaxing and picturesque walking tour through the main piazzas of Modena’s historical center and to show you their most interesting features. If you love to take photographs, you’ll find more than enough inspiration along the way. For questions of any kind, don’t hesitate to be in touch with us.
Piazza Grande, with its beautiful pavement in river stones, is at the center of Modena and is central to its residents’ hearts. There’s no better starting point for your walk.
Piazza Grande, together with the Modena Cathedral and the nearby Ghirlandina Tower, were recognized by UNESCO in 1997 as a World Heritage Site. The piazza is enclosed to the north and east by the Palazzo Comunale and the Cathedral. (Read more about visiting the UNESCO site.)
Once you’ve spent a few moments in Piazza Grande, you’ll understand why locals and tourists alike come here to relax, take in the disarming beauty of the Modena Cathedral, and appreciate the unique context in which these outstanding sites are found! At sunset, the atmosphere in Piazza Grande becomes even more special as light transforms the marble of the Cathedral and the Ghirlandina Tower into a palette of breathtaking pastels.
Immediately adjacent to the Ghirlandina Tower, you’ll find Piazza Torre, also known as Piazzetta delle Rivendugliole, a name that refers to the small greengrocers that were once concentrated here. Today, periodic art and craft markets are held in the shadow of the tower.
Continuing a bit further on the Via Emilia in the direction of Bologna, you’ll come upon another distinctive piazza: Piazza Mazzini. This piazza was established following the dismantling of the Jewish ghetto, of which only the 1873 synagogue remains as the seat of the Jewish community of Modena and Reggio-Emilia.
On two sides of the piazza, beautiful Art Nouveau buildings make this recently renovated space a delightful corner of the city.
After a brief stop to rest and refresh—several options can be found in Piazza Mazzini, including some very good ice cream parlors where you can sit at comfortable outside tables during the Summer—continue in the same direction along Via Emilia and turn left at Via Farini.
As soon as you start down Via Farini, you’ll be able to glimpse the sumptuous façade of the splendid building that is now the home of the Military Academy, but it will only be once you arrive in Piazza Roma, at the end of the street, that you’ll appreciate its grandeur and size.
Find a seat on one of the modern benches located around the piazza and spend a few minutes taking in the splendid view, the piazza itself, and the delightful play of water in the fountains. When it’s time to think about lunch, several restaurants are located nearby, including some with views of the piazza. You’ll have no trouble finding a place to enjoy the best of local cuisine.
Piazza Grande has been and still is the hub of Modena’s social life, especially on such special occasions as the celebration of the city’s Patron Saint, St. Geminianus (San Geminiano) each January 31st, when the piazza is filled with cheerful stalls. The piazza is no less lively on “Fat Thursday” during Carnival (usually in mid-February), when crowds gather beneath the balcony of the Palazzo Comunale to hear the bombastic “rant” of Sandrone, a traditional masked Commedia dell’Arte character in Modena, and his family, the Pavironicas.
A short distance from Piazza Roma is Piazza San Domenico, named for the church located there. Next, head south toward Via Del Taglio, lined with elegant shops, for some indulgent shopping.
Follow Via Del Taglio northwest to where it terminates in Piazza della Pomposa. This piazza offers one of the most picturesque views of Modena and, in the evening, turns very lively as young people flock to “where the action is.”
Walk back toward Via Emilia and continue on that street to Largo Porta Sant’Agostino, a large, rectangular piazza where a church of the same name looks out onto the square. The imposing Palazzo dei Musei is also located there.
From Via Sant’Agostino, set off on your own through the dense network of streets and alleyways in search of other small piazzas and picturesque corners of the city center. In the small and intimate Piazza San Giacomo, you can admire the graceful Fountain of the Nymph, created by Graziosi in 1926.
Next, head for Piazza San Francesco and the Fountain of San Francesco, also by Graziosi (1938). If time permits, visit the interior of the Church of San Francesco which houses an impressive “Deposition from the Cross” by Antonio Begarelli.
Finally, continue up Corso Canalchiaro toward Piazza Grande and take a detour on your right for Piazzetta della Redecocca, a small space framed by lovely porticos and picturesque houses. During the Summer, some of the restaurants on the piazzetta provide outdoor seating.
Piazza San Domenico
With the arrival of the Este family, San Domenico, because of its proximity to the ducal residence, became the official church of the court. Inside the church a beautiful group of seven terracotta statues by Antonio Begarelli can be seen.