Getting to know Modena, Emilia-Romagnia, Italy, part 1, including the Monumento ai Martiri del 1821 e 1831

I’m making a list, and checking it twice. There are still so many places in Italy I want to see and now that Covid is more or less under control, it is possible once again to travel to my heart’s content. I love hopping on a train in Florence and seeing the whole country!

Here’s my ride through Emilia Romagna.

Next up on my list was Modena, famous for Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars, opera heritage, and unbelievably wonderful balsamic vinegar.

What I saw and felt the minute I walked into the center was the university atmosphere. The center swarmed with young people. I also saw lots of handsome young men in military uniforms. The age-old question: what is it about a man in uniform?

The University of Modena, founded in 1175 and expanded by Francesco II d’Este in 1686, focuses on economics, medicine and law, and is the second oldest athenaeum in Italy. Italian military officers are trained at the Military Academy of Modena, and partly housed in the Baroque Ducal Palace.

The Biblioteca Estense houses historical volumes and 3,000 manuscripts.

The Cathedral of Modena, the Torre della Ghirlandina and the whole Piazza Grande form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, granted in 1997.

Above, the brightly colored train station is a charming but still active reminder of yesteryear.

Famous Modenesi include Mary of Modena, the Queen consort of England and Scotland; operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti and soprano Mirella Freni; Enzo Ferrari, founder of the Ferrari motor company; Catholic priest Gabriele Amorth;  chef Massimo Bottura; comics artist Franco Bonvicini; the band Modena City Ramblers and singer-songwriter Francesco Guccini who lived here for several decades.


Modena lies on the Pianura Padana, and is bounded by the two rivers, the Secchia and the Panaro, both affluents of the Po River. Their presence is symbolized by the Two Rivers Fountain in the city’s center, by Giuseppe Graziosi. The city is connected to the Panaro by the Naviglio channel.

Posters near the train station let you know winter is coming and skiing will soon be available! I almost felt as if I were back in Colorado!

A glass barn that is nearly full of bicycles near the station tells you immediately that you are in a college town.

Another poster announces an intriguing exhibition. I know I want to see it! I will try to on my next visit later in November 2021.

Below, a helpful map:

Walking from the train station to the center takes you along the Via della Manifattura dei Tabacchi. A small reminder, for an American like me, that the New World and its products had a profound influence upon the old world.

One of the first thing that struck me about Modena was the bright use of colors. While the palette is much the same as I see in Tuscany, the colors are more saturated up here. I wonder if it is because the sky is often gray here?

Above, the brightly colored stucco exterior of Chiesa di San Domenico, reconstructed by the Dukes between 1708-31.

Not far from the facade of San Domenico is the Monumento ai Martiri del 1821 e 1831. It is a strangely mixed amalgam of styles, see below.

This monument features a bronze statue (modern replacement, see below) of a young woman who symbolizes redeemed Italy who, having broken the chains of slavery, calls us to read the commemorative epigraph of the patriots. The epigraph is written on a granite boulder that forms the tall, truncated obelisk composed of large blocks of vermilion granite, placed on a square base with three steps.

The monument reminds us of the patriots who died during the Risorgimento uprisings of 1821 and 1831. The idea to build a monument to them was put forward by the illustrious Modenese, Gaetano Moreali (1795-1889), in December 1886 and immediately accepted by the Municipality. The square in front of the church of San Domenico was chosen for its site. Moreali paid for the work and commissioned its conception and execution to Silvestro Barberini of Modena in 1888. The monument was inaugurated on 2 June 1899.

The original monument had an almost 10 foot tall bronze statue by Barberini which depicted “Italy” in the more traditional iconography of the late 19th century (think of the Statue of Liberty in New York). It was a female figure dressed in abundant Roman-inspired drapery, with her classically inspired head and hair topped with a turreted crown.

The history of the monument encapsulates the modern history of Italy.

Barberini’s statue of “Italia” was removed in 1942 by the Fascists and melted down for war time use. The replacement, which we see today, is an attenuated figure of a young woman by the Modenese sculptor Marino Quartieri. This statue dates to 1972, when the renewed monument was inaugurated.


A 3rd epigraph was added to the two earlier, celebratory inscriptions on the obelisk, giving the story of the Fascist removal and the decision to renovate the monument on the proposal of the Committee for the Celebrations of the Liberation, the Municipality and the Province.


The monument celebrates the martyrs of the revolts of 1821-1822 and 1831; these occurred in various places in Italy and Europe. These uprisings were the first manifestations of the urge for Italian Reunification (Risorgimento). Conspiracies in the duchy of Modena of 1821-1822 ended with the ferocious repression by Duke Francesco IV (1779-1846), which led to the sacrifice of Don Giuseppe Andreoli (1789-1822). Andreoli was beheaded by the guillotine in the ducal fort of Rubiera, while seven others sentenced to death had managed to escape.

I’ll post again soon with more about my visit to Modena.

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