By Francesca Cuoghi
A visit to Italy can reveal unexpected places of noble and sumptuous beauty that you would have never thought existed, especially in a town known around the world for its industrial district most famous for high-powered and exclusive automobiles. The iconic brand Ferrari was founded in Modena and Pagani, Lamborghini, and Maserati are headquartered in the area.
In Sassuolo, a land that lies in between the plains and the first gentle slopes of the Apennines in Modena. What once was a town known for its red roofed buildings and agricultural tradition, today is dotted with large factories producing the world’s most beautiful cars and over 300 firms that manufacture every conceivable type of ceramic product.
The success of this modern industrial colossus is but a continuation of the town’s glorious past, one that you will find within the historic city center. The centerpiece of the town and one for which the locals are justifiably proud is magnificent Palazzo Ducale. You find the palace in all its grandeur as soon as you arrive at Piazza Martiri in the city center.
A wide pebble road opens before you, leading to the noble building. Before you stands an edifice that is an architectural evolution, one that has seen many transformations over time. Its current appearance was made possible by Duke Francesco I d’Este, who in 1634, retained Baroque architect Bartolomeo Avanzini to transform the ancient family castle into a country residence for the court. Also advising on the project were Pietro da Cortona, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini.
The courtyard of honor with its elegant two-story arcade is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. From here you access the monumental staircase, adorned with Roman statues, which leads to the numerous rooms of the Estense Residence. You are welcomed into the halls and rooms of the palace by paintings, sculptures and decorations that are treasures of artistic beauty. Every corner of the palace seems decorated by artisans of centuries past, whose skills and dedication make Palazzo Ducale almost theatrical when viewed as a whole. Special mention should be made of the Sala del Trono, Salottino d’Oro, Salone d’Onore and the Sala dello Stringa. You will encountered rooms exuding architectural trickery through its trompe d’oeil of the doors and windows, complete with faux terraces and balustrades filled with fruit baskets and colorful flower wreaths. You will find the Italian artistic knowledge of Pier Francesco and Carlo Cittadini etched into many extraordinary creations by Jean Boulanger. Bolognese frescoes by Angelo Michele Colonna and Agostino Mitelli complete the extraordinary interior.
The palace currently houses the Italian Military Academy and the rooms of this remarkable palace remained hidden from public view for many years, but today it links the contemporary world to its illustrious past through exhibitions organized throughout the year. It can be visited with a guided tour on Saturdays and Sundays upon reservation. The tour also includes a visit to the Military Academy History Museum where weapons and armatures, memorabilia, relics and military items are on display.