A thriving colony since Roman times, Modena rose to medieval prominence on the back of its broad agricultural hinterland and the arrival in 1598 of the Este nobles from Ferrara.
During their medieval heyday, the d'Este family presided over one of Europe's leading courts, combining the roles of despots with enlightened Renaissance patrons. The d'Este court attracted writers like Petrarch, Tasso, and Ariosto, and painters such as Mantegna, Titian, and Bellini.
Ercole I also rebuilt Modena, creating one of Europe's finest Renaissance cities. This family continued to rule the city until the 18th century.
The University of Modena, founded in 1683 by Francisd'Este, has traditional strengths in medicine and law. Modena also hosts the Italian Military Academy, where Italian officers are trained, partly housed in the Baroque ducal palace, begun by Francis I in 1635 from the designs of Avanzini, and finished by Francis Ferdinand V with a fine courtyard. The Biblioteca Estense houses historical volumes and 3000 manuscripts.