The seventeenth-century Ducal Palace originally used to be a castle, commonly called Rocca, built in 1458 by Borso d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara and the local Lord.

The castle then belonged to Prince Pio who sold it to Cesare d’Este in 1609.

Cesare D’Este bought it because he had chosen the city of Modena as the capital of the Duchy of Modena and Reggio. The castle was then restiled into a palace by Duke Francesco I d’Este who was a well educated and very ambitious man: despite his duchy was not massive he carried out  an European oriented political activity and he wanted his court to be as important and magnificient as the great courts in Europe.

As suggested by Bernini, Duke Francesco I d’Este transformed the old castle, which was built in Modena by the ancestor Obizzo d’Este, into the great ducal palace designed by the Architect Bartolomeo Avanzini. Bernini had received himself the request of Francis I to design the building, but he refused since already busy with the Pope. Bernini then shaped a beautiful marble portrait which is still preserved at the Galleria Estense in Modena with the oil portrait of the Duke of Velázquez himself.

Francesco I being satisfied by the splendid work of Avanzini at Modena’s castle requested him to embrace the construction of a large building to be used as court’s vacationing in substitution of the old fortress of Sassuolo (Sassuolo is located at the bottom of the Apennine foothills and it has an overall better climate compare to the one of Modena, concerning humidity and autumn fogs).

Duke Francesco I also wanted the splendid villa Pentetorri in Modena, work of the architect Gaspare Vigarani, intended to host guests of the Duke and completely destroyed by a bombing during World War II.

During the Napoleonic occupation and after the escaping of Duke of Este the Palace was sold to Count Carlo Amabile Demarzit Sahuguet d’Espagnac and then belonged to various noble families of that time. In the late ninenteeth the property was turned into a butchery and the marvellous park of the building into a farm. The Crown Prince of that time, Umberto di Savoia, required the State to purchase it and assign it to the Military Academy of Modena, that used it partially and sporadically as subsidiary location for cadets’ special courses.

A meticolous restoration by the Authority of Modena’s Artistic Heritage has lately been started, therefore several rooms and the grand gallery are now open to public visits and a lot of exhibitions take regularly place.

The Ministry of Culture Heritage together with the Superintendent and the City of Sassuolo are in the process of deciding the proper identification to assign to the building since the Accademy has demonstrated no longer interest in mantaining it as their subsidiary location.

In addition to the old castle Avanzini included a new monumental construction that was mainly decorated by the French painter Jean Boulanger, together with other Italian artists of the time such as Giacomo Monti, Baldassarre Bianchi, Pier Francesco Cittadini, Michelangelo Colonna and Guercino.

Beside the facade’s gate there are two statues representing Neptune and Galatea, a work of art by Antonio Raggi from Vico Morcote known as “Lombardo”. In a large niche in the courtyard, opposite the entrance, there is the fountain  with Neptune, and two other statues representing the Glee and Eternity by Maschio Lattanzio placed along the main staircase which leads to the first floor. Between them the Proserpina’s Ratto is represented.

The prospect view of the walls and the courtyard’s walls, the main staircase and the paintings are a masterpiece by Agostino Metelli, Colonna,  Monti and Bianchi. In a large gallery on the first floor visitors can admire architectural works and paintings belonging to Monti and Bianchi. The images are by Boulanger, who represented mythological scenes of Baccus in a grand  succession of colors and shapes both on the walls and on the ceiling. From the gallery, that has wide windows on the facade facing the square just in front of the palace, a path leads to the apartments of the Duke and Duchess. This is entirely frescoed with mythological scenes and allegories mainly by hand of Boulanger and a minor part by his student Pietro Galluzzi from Urbino. In the room denominated “of the horses”,  according to a description of the building, there were also six large canvases representing six Estensis Princes on horseback, works of famous Italian painters of that time. Two of the above mentioned convases are nowaday missing since at the time of Napoleonic occupation they were brought to Paris and they were sold there. On a wall a painting represents Francesco I riding, in the background the city of Modena is represented together with the pentagonal citadel built by him to defend the city. It was painted by the famous artist Lodovico Lana. On the same wall there is a painting by Dosso Dossi representing Alfonso I d’Este wearing an armor of war on a sorrel horse and, quiet in a distance, the representation of a battle in which the Duke forced the papal troops, who wanted to conquer Ferrara, to retreat. The hall is also frescoed by Colonna and Monti and is dedicated to the glories of Casa d’Este. The magnificent park extended as far as the hills: it was connected by a wide staircase and decorated with statues, including one by Bernardo Falconi from Bissone, and fountains that are now under restoration.

The park is today open to public for the citizens of Sassuolo.



Where: Piazzale della Rosa, Sassuolo (MO)