Brief History of Modena

La Guida di Modena

Brief History of Modena

Summary of a 2000-year tale


The Roman colony of Mutina was founded in 183 BC where a former prehistoric settlement had been. The town grew and became rich: in 43 BC here the famous battle of Modena was fought between Mark Anthony and Octavian against Brutus.
The last centuries before the fall of the Roman Empire were for Modena a period of decadence like the rest of Italy. However, it was then that Geminiano became the bishop of Modena. He died on th 31st January 397, the day of the town ‘festa’, as he is the Patron Saint of Modena.
Rebirth occurred around the year 1000. On the 9th June 1099 the work on the new Romanesque Cathedral began; in 1126 the free City-Republic was declared; in 1175 a first “Studium” or university was established, one of the oldest in the world.
The civil unrest which troubled the town brought about the decision to put Modena under the control of Obizzo d’Este, Marchese of Ferrara (1289). So, the century-old relationship with the Este family began. The first years were not peaceful, and the Este were even substituted by the ferocious tyrant Passerino Bonacolsi (1312). He lead to the victorious war against Bologna (battle of Zappolino) whose symbol is the well known “Secchia Rapita” (that is the “Stolen bucket”). Anyway, from the middle of the XIV century, the Estense authority over Modena was definitively confirmed.
Pope Julius II conquered Modena in 1510 and nominated Francesco Guicciardini as governor until when, just a few years later, the town returned to the Este. In this period the so-called “addizione erculea” which extended the city northwards was carried out. The Renaissance was for Modena a really flourishing time for art and culture, which the old town still remembers.
When, in 1598, Duke Cesare I was forced by the Papacy to leave Ferrara, he moved to Modena: so, it became the Capital of the Estense domains and would stay so until 1859. A State, the Dukedom of Modena, which included lands up to Reggio Emilia and the Tyrrhenian Sea, in a strategic position for commercial traffic. It was the biggest of the minor states, which Italy had always been divided into.
The long history of Modena as a Capital had begun, seat of an European Court, heir of one of the richest in the Italian Renaissance. Great building works, illustrious figures, artistic splendour of palaces and churches were the result.
Among the Dukes, Francesco I (1629-58) wanted the construction of the Ducal Palace°°,was a patron of the arts and a good politician and military condottiere. Two women are also unforgettable. The first is Laura Martinozzi, niece of the French Cardinal Mazzarino, regent of the State for years (1662-74) after the death of her husband Alfonso II. The second is Mary of Modena: wife of James Stuart, she was one of the causes of the English Glorious revolution (1688). Also the long years of Francesco III (1737-80) were significant, an enlightened monarch who helped science, economy and improved the planning of the city.
Considering its importance in the political area of central Emilia, Modena during the French Revolution was the seat of the congresses of the Cispadane Republic and then was united with that of the Cisalpine. Napoleon was there many times, as consul and Emperor.
The years of the Restoration were marked by the paternalistic and conservative government of the Austro-Estense Dukes Francesco IV and V. It was an epoch of urbanistic renewal and popular insurrections. In 1831, Modena was, thanks to the famous patriot Ciro Menotti, at the centre of the rebellions of the Risorgimento.
The Dukes had to definitively leave Modena in 1859: after the dictatorship of Luigi Carlo Farini, plebiscites confirmed the annexation to the new Kingdom of Italy.
From then,  visits from Kings Vittorio Emanuele II and III of Savoy are to be remembered, in particular due to the prestigious Military Academy°°, where thousands of generals were trained. The Ferrari car racing stable was established in 1929. The partisan war won Modena the Golden Medal for Military valour.
Nowadays, Modena is famous all over the world for the bel canto of Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni; for the motor tradition (Ferrari, Meserati and so on); for its cookery excellence and for its Duomo, which in 1997 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage.


[Images marked with '' are by the Author. The other ones are courtesy of the respective Institutions: copyrights at the end of thier pages. NONE of the images from this website is freely available]