Emilia Romagna Castles

Where it is

Fiorano Modenese is a town in Emilia, lying in the foothills to the south of Modena. The town centre lies around the hill where the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin stands, a seventeenth-century monumental basilica that is clearly visible from the Modena to Sassuolo provincial highway.


Why visit it

The clay-filled ‘calanchi’ (ravines) are located behind it and the ceramic tile factories towards the plain: Fiorano is, in fact, the production centre of the ceramic district, a world leader in the sector. Its hills are also home to the Salse di Nirano Regional Nature Reserve, an interesting geological site due to the unique phenomenon of the ‘mud volcanoes’. In Spezzano, it is possible to visit the remarkable cycle of Renaissance paintings in the local castle, which also houses the Museum of Ceramics and the Town Vinegar Cellar.

The presence of the Ferrari circuit is what has bestowed the title of ‘Motor City’ on Fiorano.

When to go and what to see

In every time of tyear Fiorano will entertain you with pleasant and interesting events, linked to culture, art, tradition and gastronomy.

Room with a view

If there is time, the rear terrace of the Sanctuary-Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of Fiorano is the perfect place to take photographs of the panoramic view, stretching to the north as far as the Ghirlandina tower of Modena and to the south as far as the clay ravines on the first hill.

With its network of thirteen equipped pathways and educational itineraries, open to all, including the disabled and visually impaired, the Salse di Nirano Nature Reserve offers the chance for numerous hikes and day trips in the countryside.

The area of Fiorano also offers the chance to try the dishes of traditional Emilian cuisine, such as the ‘gnocco fritto’ (fried pasty) and ‘crescentine’ (crumpets), at one of the many local restaurants.

At Spezzano Castle, it is possible to book (at least four days beforehand) a guided tour with tasting sessions of the Traditional Modena PDO Balsamic Vinegar and see the various stages of ageing. The product is also on sale in the Castle bookshop.

You can also admire the cycle of Renaissance paintings in the Room of Views inside the Castle. The cycle of paintings, which are almost like a photograph of the territory in the sixteenth century, depict fifty-seven areas of the Pio family fiefdom, with their towns and castles, facing out onto the splendid internal courtyard. The museum’s multimedia installation, called Labour, is housed in the castle basement, and tells you the stories of the people who contributed to the creation of the ceramic district and its production of tiles, a world-renowned product of the area.

Fiorano also holds the title of ‘Motor City’, partly as a result of granting honorary citizenship to Enzo Ferrari. Fans of the ‘Drake’ can visit the Ceramic Museum to see the Contemporary Collection, containing various contemporary works by Italian and foreign designers dedicated to him. Another sight not to be missed is the monument to Gilles Villeneuve, on the road named after him, which leads to the Fiorano Circuit, the Ferrari test track.

Don't miss

Spezzano Castle, which probably dates to the XI century, as part of the defensive system of Matilda of Tuscany, was converted into a nobleman’s palace by the Pio di Savoia family during the Renaissance, with the addition of a porticoed courtyard and an array of frescoes. One particularly stunning feature is the ‘Room of Views’, painted in around 1596 by Cesare Baglione and depicting the domains of Marco III Pio: a sequence of fifty-six paintings showing the State of Sassuolo with the towns, towers and castles of the fiefdom. On the first floor, there is the ‘Gallery of Battles’, a cycle of paintings resembling tapestries and depicting scenes of battle. The castle also houses the Fiorano Museum of Ceramics on the first floor and in the basement.

Museum of Ceramics. The museum tells the history of ceramic production techniques from the Neolithic Age to the present day, through experimental archaeology reconstructions of artefacts, tools and kilns, from the kilns used to fire the pots to the hand lathe, the brick moulds and the ceramist’s tools. The modern section shows the birth and development of industrialisation and the first steps towards mechanisation, while the contemporary section contains exhibits, such as conveyor belts, that tell the story of mass-produced “tiles” from the pre-war period up to the twenty-first century. The Contemporary Collection is a collection of ceramic works by Italian and foreign artists and ceramists, representing designs, architectural ceramics and innovation. The Labour Section, housed in the castle basement, is a multimedia installation that allows visitors to hear the voices of the people who worked in the factories, a journey back through time to look at the machinery and its operators, with a virtual guide, timetables and talking tiles, videos and the testimony of the workers, which can be heard using the kinect device.

Salse di Nirano Nature Reserve. The ‘Salse’, considered to be “pseudo-volcanoes”, are eruptions of cold mud, produced by rising sea water mixed with hydrocarbons (methane and oil), which cross faults in the earth as they rise to the surface, dissolving the clays present and creating the typical cone-shaped formations. The reserve, which was created in 1982 and extends for 200 hectares over the foothills of the Modenese Apennines, protects the region’s largest and most unusual group of mud volcanoes.

Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Castle and the town

The Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Castle is a magnificent example of Baroque architecture built in the seventeenth century at the behest of Francesco I d’Este, on a design of Bartolomeo Avanzini, also the architect who designed the Doge’s Palace of Sassuolo, and dominates the hill of Fiorano, in the place where the ancient castle once stood. It is the symbol of the Fiorano and a visual reference point for anyone arriving from the surrounding plain. Over time, together with the characteristic town, the Sanctuary became an important centre of pilgrimage, culminating in the Festival of 8 September, the local patron saint’s festival commemorating the birth of the Virgin Mary. The basilica has a Greek cross style layout, an elegant central dome, two bell towers and two sacristies. The square dedicated to John Paul II stands in front of the Sanctuary, with the bronze statue of the Pope. It is also the last stage of the Path of the Beatitudes. Also visible here is an archaeological area preserving the ruins of the ancient castle, which was destroyed in the seventeenth century to make way for the Sanctuary.

A pleasant stroll leads among the houses of the old town, known as “il Sasso”. The stroll continues with the “Lost Views”, thirteen large ceramic tiles positioned on the walls of the old town, starting with the first in tile in Piazza Ciro Menotti, the main square of Fiorano at the bottom of the hill.

The tomb of Ciro Menotti, patriot and martyr

Ciro Menotti, patriot of the Italian Risorgimento, joined the Carboneria and was arrested and condemned to hang in 1831. He is credited with being one of the first people to seek not only freedom for Modena, but also unification of the country under the same flag. His body was laid to rest in Spezzano cemetery, then subsequently moved to a tomb in Spezzano church in 1929. The Renaissance-style chapel is covered in multicoloured marble, with the coats of arms of the towns of Carpi, Modena and Fiorano, where Menotti was born, lived and died and where he now rests.


On the table

Balsamic vinegar has a close bond with Fiorano where, hidden in the attics of family homes, the cooked grape must alters, under certain conditions, and is transformed over time, in various wooden vessels, into an exquisite product called traditional Modena balsamic vinegar, which has been given the PDO (protected designation of origin) mark. The Town Vinegar Cellar, formed of three sets of barrels of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, is located in the pentagonal tower of Spezzano Castle. The product is sold at the castle bookshop.

Artichokes need chalky earth and exposure to the sun. They were typically grown in the gardens on the hills above the Sanctuary of Fiorano: artichoke beds once covered entire sides of the hills of Fiorano and several local families have continued production to the present day.

The caper plant needs chalky earth and often grows on the walls of stone houses with good exposure to the sun; it can still be seen growing on the walls of Nirano Castle and the Sanctuary of Fiorano. The buds are preserved in salt and are the perfect accompaniment to many traditional local dishes, such as in the green sauce served with boiled meats.

White and black figs were an important local product in the past and many of these trees are still visible along the paths in the Salse di Nirano Nature Reserve.

The most celebrated local specialities are the gnocco fritto (fried pasty) and the crescentina (crumpet), also called tigella; you cannot come to Fiorano and miss the chance to taste these delicacies, which are served at various local restaurants and eateries.

Significant appointments

May in Fiorano takes place in May in the town of Fiorano and is traditionally dedicated to a full calendar of cultural events and shows that brighten the town, with markets, stalls, food stands, association info points in the square, races, dance competitions and music.

Festival of 8 September is a three-hundred-year-old festival that brings thousands of pilgrims to Fiorano up until midnight, when a spectacular fireworks display is held on the hill, visible across the entire plain. There are numerous religious celebrations at the Sanctuary, where it is possible to walk up to the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary dispensing grace to the pilgrims. Stalls and stands offering traditional food welcome the visitors.

San Rocco Fair is a traditional and hundred-year-old agricultural fair held every year in Spezzano from 14 to 16 August. Food, shows, music, exhibitions, parades of ancient and modern agricultural trucks, off-road exhibition. On 16 August, which is the patron saint’s day of San Rocco, a Mass is celebrated on the steps of the Oratory of San Rocco, followed by blessing of the tractors, with a traditional parade.

The Ennesimo Film Festival was introduced in 2015 and is organised every year in early May at the Astoria Cinema Theatre in Fiorano. The purpose of the festival is to raise awareness of arthouse film and short films and to show the public the various aspects of contemporary cinema in an international setting.

Piazze #sodinonsapere is a three-day event held in the city squares, with a packed program of meetings and debates on contemporary issues. Intellectuals, journalists, musicians and other representatives of the world of knowledge meet in the squares, at the Astoria Theatre and the BLA Library of Fiorano to discuss current affairs and the issues of the day.

Note di Notte is a series of evening musical events held every year, in July and August, in the courtyard of Spezzano Castle.

Castles in the territory

Monuments in the territory

image from Castello di Spezzano anche detto Rocca Coccapani

Castello di Spezzano anche detto Rocca Coccapani

image from Riserva naturale Salse di Nirano

Riserva naturale Salse di Nirano

image from Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP

Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP

For More Information

Redazione Modena e pianura