Culture of Modena
Culture of Modena

Modena Culture Guide For Traveling

Modena is a charming, historic, and culturally rich city with a history that goes back to Roman times. Having risen to importance during the Middle Ages due to the arrival of the noble d’Este family, it became a place for writers, painters, and architects to thrive and, following a rebuild by the House of Este, ultimately became one of Europe’s finest cities of the Renaissance.

The culture of Modena is defined by its incredible architecture, historic art, famed cuisine, internationally recognized musical history, and thriving sports car industry. In fact, the Modena tourism organization describes the city in three words – art, food, and cars.

The city is home to one of Italy’s most amazing city centers, which features iconic architectural locales like the Cathedral, bell tower, and Piazza Grande. It is the birthplace of one of a kind balsamic vinegar, known for its thick consistency and rich depth of color and flavor. It is an international hub for operatic music and the birthplace of famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. And it was the home of sports car creator Enzo Ferrari.

Visitors to Modena can soak up the local culture by visiting any of the city’s many sightseeing destinations, walking the historic streets, shopping at local boutiques, and dining at any of Modena’s acclaimed restaurants. From art to architecture to history, the culture of Modena is palpable throughout the city.


For art lovers, Modena’s Palazzo dei Musei is a must-see. Home to a variety of museums, it contains vast and varied exhibitions that include everything from paintings and sculptures to unique plaster casts, bronzes, engravings, and lithographs.

One of the country’s most important art galleries is located in Palazzo dei Musei. Called the Estense Gallery, it contains priceless works of art from artists such as Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto Correggio, Cosmé Tura, Guido Reni, and more. Some of its more famous pieces include Modena Triptych by El Greco, Bust of Francesco I d’Este by Bernini, and Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena by Diego Velázquez.

Also located in Modena is the Museo Civico D’Arte, which boasts varied collections of art and historic artifacts. Among the objects on display here are fabric and decorated paper, historic weapons, paintings, sculptures, musical instruments, and ancient artifacts that trace Modena’s long history.

Not to be missed is the Galleria Civica, a gallery that has hosted countless unique art exhibitions. Founded in 1959, the gallery features two permanent collections including the Contemporary Drawing Collection and the Photography Collection. The Drawing Collection contains over 4,000 pieces from twentieth century Italian artists, while the Photography Collection houses a wide variety of works by popular international photographers. Additionally, the museum hosts special shows and temporary exhibitions throughout the year.


Modena is home to a wide variety of architectural structures to admire. The vast history of the area and the rich culture of the city can be seen through each and every town square, building, and church in Modena.
Some of the must-see places for architecture lovers are the city’s historic twelfth-century Cathedral, the Cathedral’s Gothic bell tower, and the famed Baroque-style Ducal Palace – home to the Military Academy, Military Museum, and library.

The historic Modena Cathedral is one of Italy’s most stunning Romanesque churches and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The façade is characterized by arches with decorative sculptures and a grand rose window. Inside, travelers can admire art by Anselmo da Campione and historic nativity scenes by local artists.

The adjacent Torre della Ghirlandina stands at over 290 feet and has become a symbol of the city. The top of the tower features twin parapets that resemble garlands, meaning ghirlanda in Italian, hence the name of the tower. Constructed as the bell tower for the Modena Cathedral, Torre della Ghirlandina was at one time used to signal warnings to the locals. The impressive tower took several centuries to complete and today it features decorative sculptures and beautiful Gothic elements.

The Modena Cathedral and Torre della Ghirlandina are located in Modena’s main square, Piazza Grande. Dating back to the twelfth century, the square has long served as Modena’s center of religious power and local government.

Also located in Piazza Grande, travelers should not miss a visit to the Palazzo Comunale. The complex dates back to the seventeenth century and features a breathtaking façade consisting of marble columns. One of the interior rooms, called Camerino dei Confirmati, houses an important piece of Modena’s history and another of the city’s symbols. The secchia rapita is a wooden bucket that symbolizes the city’s victory over Bologna during the fourteenth century Battle of Zappolino. Other rooms feature historic frescoes, elegant tapestries, and art by local painters such as Adeodato Malatesta.

Not far from the Cathedral, the Ducal Palace is considered to be the stateliest Baroque building in the city. The historic building served as the residence of the ruling d’Este family from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century. Built on the site of a former castle, the palace features a courtyard, grand staircase, and opulent rooms decorated with beautiful frescoes and period furniture.

For a unique architectural experience, visit the San Cataldo Cemetery which was designed by Aldo Rossi, an Italian architect known for an avant-garde style.

Mata, which is the city’s former tobacco factory complex, provides an excellent example of ongoing revitalization efforts throughout the city. After undergoing a redevelopment project in 2011, today the complex serves as a venue to artistic and cultural events.

During a stroll through the historic city center, do not miss the beautiful Fountain of the Two Rivers. The fountain features two statues, one male and one female, that represent the nearby Secchia and Panaro Rivers. The fountain was designed by Giuseppe Graziosi and was completed in the first half of the twentieth century.


Among Modena’s native writers, the most well-known is sixteenth and seventeenth century poet Alessandro Tassoni. During his lifetime, Tassoni composed a range of poems and works of literary criticism, though his most celebrated work is the heroic poem La secchia rapita, which refers to the wooden bucket housed in Palazzo Comunale and designated Tassoni as Modena’s most important native poet. Just below the Ghirlandina stands a statue that was erected in Tassoni’s honor.

Other notable writers from Modena include Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Arrigo Levi, Edmondo Berselli, and Guido Silvestri.

The Italian novel I ragazzi di Villa Emma by Giuseppe Pederiali was set in Nonantola, a town in the province of Modena.


Though Modena may not appear on the silver screen as frequently as other Italian cities, the vast history and beauty of this Northern Italian gem has inspired a few filmmakers over the decades. Notable movies either set or filmed in Modena, at least in part, include Die Kinder der Villa Emma (2016) and Ci vuole un fisico (2018) as well as the television shows Che Dio ci auiti and Don Zeno.


As the home of famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, Modena has a rich musical identity embedded into its culture. The tradition of opera music is cultivated in local programs that offers master classes in musical technique and interpretation for young students and musicians.

To take in a concert, visit the Teatro Comunale di Modena, a nineteenth-century opera house known for its rich history and incredible performances.

Modena was also the birthplace of singer-songwriter Francesco Guccini, a pillar of Italy’s cantautori music movement.


Located among the Palace Museums is the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. This museum houses archaeological collections ranging from Paleolithic times to the Middle Ages. Travelers can view ancient relics from prehistoric excavations and gaze upon pieces from centuries ago.

In addition to being a museum for visitors to explore, the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology also holds a program which works to educate, research, and preserve the archaeological heritage of the area.

As the former capital of the Duchy of Modena, the city of Modena has a long and rich history that has resulted in noteworthy architecture, monuments, and artwork. Furthermore, the city’s unique culture is defined by the local culinary tradition and the famous sports car brands that have their headquarters in the area, ensuring that a vacation to Modena offers something for travelers of all interests.