A short distance from Bologna is the distinctive small town of Modena. Located on the south side of the Po Valley, in the Province of Modena, in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy, the city proudly offers visitors the Ferrari Museum and some of the most unique shops to be found in the entire country. The city has a history and culture that is frequently overlooked because of the larger, higher profile city of Bologna. Do not be misled by publicity hype! Modena deserves your attention!
Big on Education and History
The University of Modena started in 1175, was expanded by Francesco Il d’Este in 1686 and is the second oldest athenaeum in Italy. The Italian military officers are trained at the Military Academy of Modena and utilizes space in the Baroque Ducal Palace. In addition, the Torre della Ghirlandina and Piazza Grande were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1997. Culture seekers will find Modena significant as it is the home of operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti and soprano Mirella Freni.
Luxury. Enzo Ferrari Museum
Modena is an ancient town that is known for its automotive industry and it includes factories for the manufacturing of famous Italian sports car makers Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati. One of the Ferrari cars, the 360 Modena, was named after the town.
The Museum shares the story of Ferrari past and present. Czech architect and Future Systems founder Jan Kaplický designed the museum which includes two buildings: One is the early 19th century former home and workshop of Ferrari’s father that was renovated to maintain a 40-metre gallery, the second space is a glass fronted structure that curves around the original building. The new non-linear structure has a streamlined yellow aluminum roof that matches the color of the Ferrari logo and features sliced incisions intended to resemble the air intake vents on the hood of a car.
• Handmade Leather Bags/Belts. La Vacchetta Grassa. Corso Canalchiaro 42/44
If you think you have found leather nirvana with a Gucci or Prada, it is time to review your decision. The home of handcrafted leather products is based in Modena, and shopping in this unique old-world traditional workplace is worth the trip. The retailer/shop is located in a beautiful historic building steps away from Piazza Grande. The owners have been producing handmade belts, bags and wallets for over 35 years by using 100 percent natural skins that are processed using an ancient vegetable tanning method that dates back to the Middle Ages. The products are of the highest quality, available in cowhide, crocodile, eel, Galuchat (untanned leather with a granular surface – often dyed green), or python and available for purchase in the shop located on the workshop’s ground floor.
• Original Balsamic Vinegar. Villa San Donnino, Strada Medicina n. 25
If you thought the stuff purchased in the local grocery store or offered at restaurants was Balsamic Vinegar, you may be incorrect. The REAL Balsamic Vinegar, made in Modena, is aged for a minimum of 12 years. For the gourmet palate experience, plan on spending $100 – $400 for a very small bottle.
The traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is produced from cooked grape must ripened by slow acidification due to natural fermentation and progressive concentration through a long ageing process in a series of various wooden casks with no aromatic substances added. The must comes from crushed Trebbiano, Lambrusco and other Modena grapes.
The grapes are pressed and the separate uncooked grape juice or “must” is poured into open cooking vats. It is then boiled over an open fire where it is reduced and slowly concentrated. Boiling evaporates a variable quantity of water and devitalizes the microbe load present at the start of the must causing it to lose its natural tendency to transform into wine.
The cooked must is dark, distinctly tasty and perfumed with an elevated sugary content. After boiling, it is cooled, decanted and placed in a series of casks of decreasing volume and different wood (oak, chestnut, mulberry, cherry, juniper, etc.). Each series of individual casks is called a “battery,” and left in the lofts of houses where it is subjected to seasonal temperature variations. The product is protected by The Consortium of Producers of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Each individual bottle is numbered.
Balsamic Vinegar has been used for centuries in the cuisine of Modena with meat and boiled vegetables and eggs. Tradizionale di Modena is also used on raw and cooked fish, meat roasts and casseroles.
• Jewish Synagogue
Jewish residency in Modena dates back to 1025. Loan officers and bankers from Perugia, Rimini and Fermo developed Modena in 1393 where they enjoyed the protection of the House of Este, rulers of Modena, in tandem with Ferrara. When the Jews were removed from Bologna (1569), and the loss of standing of Ferrara (1598), Modena became the capital city of the Duchy of Estense, and Jews moved to this locale.
The Jewish population expanded in the 17th and 18th centuries. The dukes considered favoring Jewish settlement and development as beneficial to the state for economic reasons. However, there was a ghetto formed (1638-1859) and Inquisitional controls were implemented.
The current Synagogue (viewed by appointment) was built by the Jewish Community of Modena in Lombardesque style and inaugurated in 1873. It was designed by architect Ludovico Maglietta and has a double façade in Via Coltellini and Piazza Mazzine. The interior was decorated by Ferdinando Manzini.
Located next to the Palazzo Comunale, the synagogue is located inside the area that comprised the city’s ancient Jewish ghetto. This city has been a principal center for Italian Jewry and a seat for Kabbalistic study.
Getting to Modena
Modena is approximately 30 minutes by car from Bologna and an easy commute by rail. From the train station, a short walk brings visitors to the historic center of the city and the Enzo Ferrari Museum
For additional information: Modena Italy office of Tourism.