Modena Cathedral: A Must-See Marvel of Architecture

Modena Cathedral Ghirlandina

Modena Cathedral is a storybook written on the stone. It's a UNESCO Heritage site. But most of all it's a symbol, loved by all the locals in Modena.
Take a look inside?

2 sculptors for 1 masterpiece

2 specular masterminds built Modena Cathedral: Lanfranco, an architect, and Wiligelmus, a sculptor.

An inscription in the apse describes Lanfranco as "famous for his ingenuity, prepared and competent construction regulator and master".

And you tell it by looking at the complex structure of the cathedral: he used Vitruvian geometric forms, cut the vaults, and reused old stones for the covering.

We don't know much about Wiligelmus, the sculptor mentioned on the facade.

But if the Cathedral looks like a moving world populated with stories, men and fantastic creatures, we have to thank his bright mind and hands.

Modena Cathedral inside 1

The central nave of Modena Cathedral

From the top of the tower

If Modena has a symbol, this is the Ghirlandina bell tower.
The affectionate nickname originates from the marble balustrades that crown its spire, as graceful as garlands, ghirlande.

But Ghirlandina wasn't only a beautiful ornament.
Its bells marked the life of the Modenese, they signaled the opening of city wall gates and gather the population in case of alarm and danger.

Goes without saying that the view from the top of the tower deserves the effort to climb its 186 steps.

From there you can also see the incomplete Cemetery of Modena by Aldo Rossi, another masterpiece to save with a heart in your Google Maps.

Modena Cathedral supper virgin sculpture

Madonna della Pappa terracotta statues

Sweetness in the crypt

Precious marbles and thin onyx slabs decorate the symmetric crypt of Modena Cathedral.

Let your eyes go to a group of colored terracotta statues called Madonna della Pappa, made by local artisan Guido Mazzoni at the end of the XIV century.

On the right of the Virgin, you find "Suor Papina", a nun who blows the soup onto the spoon before offering it to the Baby Jesus who holds a bensone in his hand.

What is a bensone?

It's one of the oldest desserts of Modena, popular since middle age and during religious celebrations.
Maybe not as gourmet as torta Barozzi, but a perfect fit for Modena Cathedral.

Modena Cathedral crypt

The crypt of Modena Cathedral

A dragon's bone

If you look upon Porta Regia, the gate of the Cathedral in Piazza Grande square, you'd find something strange.

There's a statue of Saint Geminiano, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated. But there's also a giant curved bone.

"It has to be a dragon's bone", people thought.

So since the dragon is a magical creature that can arise from his bone, they positioned it next to the statue of the Saint. If the dragon has woken up, the Saint would have killed him by saving the city.

During the Middle Ages, people didn't know that Modena Cathedral rose on a former sea. So the dragon's bone is actually whalebone.

Modena Cathedral fish market gate

The fish market gate

The fish market gate

On the east side of the Cathedral, there's a story written on the stone.

It's the fish market gate, Porta della Pescheria, and it takes its name from a fish market set nearby during the Middle Ages.

Follow with your eyes the relief on the door frame to meet real and imaginary animals, used as moral examples.

The fox, the eagle, the stork, the lion, the vulture, the manticore (a fantasy beast from the Orient) and more.

Inside the door jamb, admire the cycle of months.

Every month shows a scene with agricultural activities, most of them related to food. Pig butchering in January, harvesting in July, and grape picking in September. Not much different than today, isn't it?

Nowadays, you find the best products from the local countryside a few steps from the gate. Visit Mercato Albinelli food market, wandering alone or guided with us during our Modena Food Tour :)


Watch this beautiful video with photos by Modenese architect Cesare Leonardi

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