Modena is what Bologna might look like if it were boiled down to its essentials. It is smaller, but boasts a university and a soccer team, plus an extraordinary level of wealth”specifically, the highest per-capita income in Italy.
Modena’s showmanship and culture can be summed up in two last names: Pavarotti and Ferrari. Both the tenor, Luciano, and the race-car pioneer, Enzo, called Modena their home. (For tax reasons, Pavarotti sometimes preferred to name Monte Carlo as his home, a subtle distinction that met with a poor reception at the Finance Ministry.) Ferrari still has its headquarters in the suburb of Maranello, and Pavarotti often did winter concerts at the city’s Teatro Comunale.
The food is also world-class. Aside from its tortellini and prosciutto”Emilian staples produced in each of its cities”Modena’s best-known product is balsamic vinegar, which carries a DOC label so it’s not confused with inferior imitations. Less haughty is its sparkling red Lambrusco wine, present at any simple country picnic along with a piadina (roll-up) sandwich.
Deciding between the countryside and the downtown will be difficult. The central square and its 11th-century cathedral make for an idyllic meeting place and cultural venue, often hosting pop and rock concerts. I saw an unforgettable Bob Dylan show there, his stage sandwiched between the Duomo and the medieval clock tower.
Farther afield, the architecture becomes more modern. Modena was bombed considerably in World War II, and much of what was built afterward clearly had a more contemporary look, though perhaps more tasteful and thought-out than the postwar constructions in Milan, for example.