Get past the unsightly factories that ring this affluent city and you’ll find a lively medieval centre, thick with market stalls, vibrant piazzas and impressive palazzi. The highlight, and reason enough for a visit, is the stunning Unesco World Heritage–listed cathedral.
Some 40km northwest of Bologna, Modena was one of a series of Roman garrison towns established along the Via Emilia in the 2nd century BC. It became a free city in the 12th century and then passed to the Este family late in the following century. Prosperity came when it was chosen to be the capital of a much-reduced Este duchy in 1598, after the family lost Ferrara to the Papal States. Apart from a brief Napoleonic interlude, the Este family ran the town until Italian unification in the 19th century.