Sassuolo, the capital of Italian ceramic tiles | Bellarome

Sassuolo, the capital of Italian ceramic tiles

Sassuolo is an Italian town of 40 890 inhabitants in the province of Modena in Emilia-Romagna.


It is not known exactly where the toponym of Sassuolo derives from. There are various hypotheses about it, but the most authoritative for historians are two: according to the first, the name would have originated from oil which since ancient times naturally abounded in the area, called at the time “stone oil”, while for the second hypothesis the name derives from the Latin saxum solum (from which Saxolum), or “stony ground”, and would indicate the precise place where the first human settlements of the area would have occurred.

Located on the border with the province of Reggio Emilia, the city is mainly known for the production of ceramics and tiles, sectors that make Sassuolo one of the major industrial centers of the entire region. It is estimated that 80% of Italian tiles are produced in the ceramic district of Sassuolo, and that around three quarters of production are destined for the foreign market, with a total turnover of over 4 billion euros.

The territory of Sassuolo, partly flat and partly hilly, is located in the middle valley of the Secchia river, on its hydrographic right. The characteristic reliefs of the area are the badlands, made up of scaly clays with chaotic arrangement, the formation of which is caused by the erosion of the soil. The different composition of the rocks of the badlands allows the vegetation to grow equally along its slopes, while the badlands of the neighboring municipality of Fiorano Modenese, dating back to the Pliocene, are bare and craggy.

The presence of the ravine constitutes one of the main reasons why economic and industrial development in the post-war period was so strong. In fact, clay is Sassuolo’s main source of income, as it facilitates the production of ceramics

Sassuolo, at the same time, is also the ideal destination for those who are looking for a quiet place, full of well-being and serenity, in contact with nature and with the air as well. There are numerous routes such as the Via dei Vulcani di Fango and the nature reserves that have an international importance and relevance.

In the heart of Emilia-Romagna, the city of Sassuolo is capable of holding two different souls together. On the one hand, the history of the Este family, who right here created what is remembered as the “Estense delight”, or the Doge’s Palace. On the other, the industriousness of a territory that has earned a fundamental role in the ceramic production sector at national and international level. So much so that the city also houses a real museum, the Bertozzi and Casoni, where ceramics become art.

Let’s start this wonderful virtual tour in this lovely city!


Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace of Sassuolo rises in the homonymous town in Piazzale della Rosa and forms an integral part of the “Gallerie Estensi of Modena”, on which it depends; in 2016 it registered 22.394 visitors.

It is one of the most important baroque residences in northern Italy. Its current appearance takes shape at the behest of Duke Francesco I d’Este, who in 1634 commissioned the architect Bartolomeo Avanzini to transform the ancient family castle into a modern extra-urban residence for the court. Mural paintings, stucco decorations, sculptures and fountains still today convey the sense of this “delight” long remained on the margins of knowledge and public attendance.

The seventeenth-century ducal palace originates from a previous castle, commonly called Rocca, built in 1458 by Borso d’Este, marquis of Ferrara and lord of the place.

The castle then passed to the princes Pio, who in 1609 ceded it to Cesare d’Este who had chosen Modena as the capital of the Duchy of Modena and Reggio after the loss of Ferrara in favor of Pope Clement VIII. The castle was later transformed into a palace by Duke Francesco I d’Este, a cultured and very ambitious man who, despite the smallness of his small duchy, carried out a political activity of European scope and wanted his court to be on an equal footing of the great courts of Europe.

For this reason, he wanted to transform the old castle built in Modena by the ancestor Obizzo d’Este into the grandiose Palazzo Ducale by the architect Bartolomeo Avanzini (of Curio?) Recommended by Bernini, who will make him the wonderful marble portrait preserved today at the Galleria Estense in Modena with the oil portrait of the same duke of Velázquez (Bernini had received from Francesco I the request to design the palace himself, but had refused because he was already engaged with the pope).

From the Grand Staircase of Honor you enter the main floor where you can visit the Ducal Apartments: the Bacchus Gallery, the Duke’s Apartment, the Hall of the Guards, the stuccoed Apartment and that of the Duchess. Completing the path of the main floor, thirteen new rooms restored between 2009 and 2012 and between 2014 and 2015 host 374 works (311 paintings and 63 sculptures) from the deposits of the Galleria Estense in Modena. The set-up is not based on rigorous museological and historical-artistic principles, but creates a sort of visitable deposit, a study collection arranged according to general criteria that privilege the visibility of the works and their availability for study, rather than the coherence of the groupings for pictorial schools, by style or by chronology.

Among the masters of the past there are Elisabetta Sirani, Lavinia Fontana, Giacomo Cavedone, Domenico Carnevali, Francesco Stringa, Benedetto Gennari, Sisto Badalocchio, Bernardo Strozzi, Giovan Battista Crespi, Giacomo Zoboli, Francesco Vellani and Adeodato Malatesta.

After many years of military administration and complex restoration works, in 2004 the Palace definitively entered into delivery of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism.


Piazza Garibaldi

“Piazza della Torre, or of the Christians, and more commonly of the Clock, which is the main one on earth, was started in the year 1517”. This is what Natale Cionini said, in the pages of “The Contrade of Sassuolo”, published in 1872, where he writes that in the 16th century “the square of the clock began to be made, and the picket fences rose where they came from many people are coming down.”

The origin of the square, in the form we see today, therefore dates back to the sixteenth century, when Alessandro Pio started its construction through the construction of the Palazzo della Ragione and the Osteria della Posta on its sides. Before, as Vivi always writes, there “everything was padullo”.

In 1676, Francesco II d’Este commissioned the ducal architect Antonio Loraghi to design the civic tower, commonly called Il Campanone by the Sassolese. The construction of the theater dates back to 1696, then restored in 1775 by Francesco III d’Este who commissioned the architect Pietro Bezzi for the overall intervention that made the appearance of the square more uniform with the arcades that close the space. During the twentieth century the Monument to the Fallen took place under the vault, a bronze sculpture by Giuseppe Graziosi (1921) previously in the center of the square.

The current aspect of the square is still substantially the eighteenth-century one and is made original by the presence of the channels, the only ones left of an uncovered aqueduct system that once crossed the historic city center.


Civic Clock Tower

The tower was built between 1676 and 1680 according to a project by the ducal architect Antonio Loraghi, partially modified during construction. With the clock, the Madonna of the railing by Giovanni Battista Poncelli and the multilinear profile of the dome, the tower strongly characterized the square, built starting from the 16th century, so much so that this public space took the name of “Piazza dell’Orologio” .

Destroyed the Madonna di Poncelli during the revolutionary events of the late eighteenth century, in 1799 the Madonna Enthroned with the Child by Antonio Pulici placed himself in the niche of the balcony. Following serious static failures, in 1822 the court architect Giuseppe Maria Soli (1745-1822), former director of the Atestine Academy of Fine Arts and the most prominent exponent of Modena’s neoclassicism, was commissioned to design a new roof for the tower and to arrange its decoration.

It is on this occasion that the four marble statues depicting the regenerated Ages, coming from the Tree of Liberty – a revolutionary monument erected in the center of the square on a project by Soli himself in 1798 and destroyed the following year – were placed next to the bell cell located in the octagonal drum.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Carlo Casaltoli, decorator at the Rubbiani manufacture, made a polychrome ceramic dial for the clock, which was later removed in 1935.

The current one, donated by Ceramiche Marazzi, was placed in the early eighties of the twentieth century, on the occasion of the restoration of the square.


Bertozzi & Casoni Museum

The Museum offers the public the opportunity to enjoy the works of the two masters of contemporary ceramics. The collection is housed on the ground floor of the Cavallerizza Ducale di Sassuolo, a building restored thanks to the intervention of Eng. Franco Stefani and Studio Pincelli.

An innovative and unique museum, born on the initiative of Franco Stefani, who has managed to gather in a place rich in history, such as the Cavallerizza Ducale, a collection of avant-garde works, creating an invisible bridge between a glorious past and a contemporary world that anticipates the future.

The bond between Giampaolo Bertozzi and Stefano Dal Monte Casoni with the city of Sassuolo was born in the early nineties when, thanks to Betta Frigieri, the works of the two artists are hosted in the Paggeriarte spaces of the Municipality of Sassuolo. Still in 2000, always on the initiative of Betta Frigieri, Paggeriarte hosted «Choose paradise. Bertozzi & Casoni ceramic sculptures ».


The Bertozzi e Casoni company was founded in 1980 in Imola by Giampaolo Bertozzi (1957) and Stefano Dal Monte Casoni (1961).

Tradition and innovation in an experimental dialogue that since 2000 opens the “most significant” visions, the so-called “present contemplations”. A condition that looks to the contemporary world of Vanitasumana with a subtle thread between surrealism and hyperrealism. Specific cases of degradation, of truth but also of beauty are not exempt.

The museum houses the great works presented at international art events such as: Tate Liverpool (2004), Sperone Westwater, New York (2005, 2010, 2015). Ca ‘Pesaro (2007), Castello Sforzesco, Milan (2008), Venice Biennale (2009, 2011), All Visual Arts (2012). Museum Beelden aan Zee, The Hague and Beck & Eggeling, Düsseldorf (2013), Palazzo Te, Mantua (2014), Expo Milano (2015).


Montegibbio Castle

The Montegibbio Castle rises at the top of one of the hilly hills surrounding Sassuolo, about 5 km from the city. Surrounded by a romantic English-style park, in turn immersed in the soft surrounding agricultural landscape, it is one of the most evocative medieval castle complexes in the province of Modena.

Currently, it is possible to visit the park, the court – used in the summer for cultural events and granted to private individuals by Sassuolo Gestioni Patrimoniali srl for holding parties, banquets and ceremonies – and the Municipal Vinegar Factory, by reservation, while the palace Marchionale – except for extraordinary events – is closed to the public, awaiting restoration and a new cultural destination.

The first fortifications of Mons Gibus or Gibulus (monte gibboso, hunchback) probably date back to the beginning of the 10th century, when the canons of the cathedral of Parma worked to defend their territories, on the eastern bank of the Secchia river, from the raids of the Hungarians.

In all probability, according to the current state, these defensive structures adapted to the conformation of the hilly relief, giving the complex an elliptical shape, developed around the space of the courtyard. The canons of Parma also refer to the act of 980 with which Emperor Otto II confirms these possessions to them, the first written record of the existence of Castellum de Monte Gibuli, and the analogous one of 996 drawn up by the chancellery of Emperor Otto III. Entered within the vast estates of Bonifacio di Toscana and his daughter Matilde di Canossa, the castle of Montegibbio became part of a triple circle of castles located on the Modena and Reggio hills in defense of the Canossian territories and related road links.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Montegibbio was occupied by the Guelphs Della Rosa, lords of Sassuolo, who used the castle to defend their fiefdom, threatened by the expansionist aims of the Ghibelline Passerino Bonaccolsi, governor of Modena. For this purpose, in 1321, new walls were built and dug deep pits, but in 1325 Francesco Bonaccolsi, son of Passerino and ally of the Visconti, took Montegibbio and ordered its destruction. The following year, once again conquered the territory by the Guelph Versuzio Lando, Montegibbio was returned to the Della Rosa family, who rebuilt the castle and resumed ruling on the territory until 1375, when the inhabitants subjected themselves spontaneously to the Este. Only from the beginning of the fifteenth century, however, the Este family definitively consolidated their dominion over Montegibbio which, as an autonomous municipality, was included in the podesteria of Sassuolo.


Together with Sassuolo, Montegibbio was therefore ceded to Giberto Pio di Savoia in 1499, but already in 1501, following an earthquake, the castle was seriously damaged and almost completely abandoned. Still in ruins, as evidenced by the late sixteenth-century representation in the Sala delle Vedute of the Castle of Spezzano, following the death of Marco III Pio di Savoia in 1599, in 1609 he returned possession of the Este Ducal Chamber which, in 1636, ceded it to the Boschetti, nobles of Modena, after elevating the territory to the title of marquisate. It was the Marquis Girolamo Boschetti, a few years later, who rebuilt the castle on the ruins of the previous fortifications, erecting the Marquis palace “on a delightful and practicable hill also in a carriage, with about twenty rooms”, as indicated in a document of the time. On this occasion, a new and wider access portal to the courtyard was opened, dabbing the medieval one, in sandstone, on whose left jamb there is still a medieval apotropaic figure. In 1676, the castle returned to the Este Ducal Chamber which, in 1696, ceded it to the Marquis Ottavio Spolverini of Verona. In this era, the complex is described as “a large palace located within the enclosure of the walls of the Castle of Montezibio with its doors and windows with glazed windows now surrounded by a garden, which continues around the said castle”. Once the direct descent died, in 1762 he returned to the Ducal Chamber and, from 1767 to 1797, the year in which the fiefdoms were abolished, he belonged to Luigi Canonici, a nobleman from Ferrara, who was awarded the title of Marquis of Montegibbio.

It became the property of the Nanni family during the first half of the nineteenth century, under which the ancient tower was lowered, in 1851 it passed to the wealthy Borsari family from Finale Emilia, who destined it as a holiday residence. The last conspicuous building intervention that still characterizes the complex is due to the Borsari, between 1851 and 1872: the enlargement and elevation of the marquis palace, the redevelopment of the interiors, furnished and decorated in a sumptuous eclectic style, and the construction of new service buildings.


The Church of San Pietro in the Montegibbio Castle

The history of the origins of this church, probably dedicated since its foundation to St. Peter the Apostle, is still rather nebulous and is handed down only by ancient historiography; however, the existence of an oratory inside the castle of Montegibbio seems certain since the establishment of the primitive fortified nucleus.

The title of parish was previously assigned to a church located in Passo Stretto and, subsequently, to the church of San Marino, which still exists to the east of the castle. As soon as it assumed the title of parish church, this temple inside the castle enclosure also added the dedication to San Marino, ownership that disappeared in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Also testified in the fresco depicting Montegibbio in the Sala delle Vedute of the Castle of Spezzano, painted by Cesare Baglione in 1596, the church was affected by building redevelopment interventions, in conjunction with those promoted by the Marquis Boschetti in the nearby marquis palace around the middle of the Six hundred.

The interior, with three naves, has a stucco ornamentation inspired by more courtly and complex contemporary city creations, such as the Stuccato Apartment of the Ducal Palace of Sassuolo or the Church of Madonna del Macero, or “di Sotto”, also in Sassuolo .

The sober main façade, which would seem to be a prelude to a single nave chapel, is inspired by eighteenth-century models and was completed only in 1770, while some substantial structural consolidation works and the replacement of the six-eighteenth-century painted decorations date back to 1864 architectural quadrature, made by Antonio Forghieri and erased by a lackluster work on the occasion of a subsequent restoration. In addition to the fine scagliola frontals of Carpigian manufacture, datable at the beginning of the eighteenth century, inside there is an altarpiece from the second half of the seventeenth century depicting Saint Peter the Apostle, already on the main altar and now in the first right altar, and a another coeval with the Madonna in glory and the saints Antonio da Padova, Lucia, Francesco d’Assisi and Alberto di Sicilia.

The latter painting, of which the central landscape piece depicting the castle of Montegibbio at the end of the seventeenth century is noted, is placed within a sumptuous carved wooden altarpiece that also acts as a closet for relics, hiding the reliquary compartments behind the pilasters and the lower panel with the coat of arms of the Borsari family, owners of the castle since 1851.


Spezzano Castle

Spezzano Castle, also called Rocca Coccapani, is the most important military structure in the Fiorano Modenese area, also home to the Municipal Ceramics and Vinegar Museum.

The building has probably existed since the 11th century, although the first documents that officially speak of it are more recent. The oldest is in Sacramentum Extimatoris, a section of the statutes of the Modena municipality of 1225, in which it is called Castro Spezani. In the Middle Ages, the complex had a keep, towers, walls, a few houses, the well inside the walls, barns, barns, warehouses and a chapel dedicated to Sant’Agata. In 300 the moat was dug and the entrance was dominated by a tower with a drawbridge. The drawbridge was demolished and rebuilt in 1795 because of its serious state of decay,

The castle performed, at least until the fifteenth century, the function of defending and protecting the population as well as being an excellent observation point for the arrival of enemies thanks to its geographical location. Its military defence ability was certainly put to the test on May 19, 1355 when it resisted for fifteen days a siege of two thousand horses and a thousand infantrymen of the Este family without the invaders being able to conquer it.

In 1393, the Marquis of Ferrara Alberto V d’Este granted the castle to Marco I Pio, lord of Carpi in fiefdom. In the same year, Alberto passed away and Niccolò III d’Este, succeeded by his father Alberto, reconfirmed the fiefdom of Marco I Pio in 1405.

In the early 1500s Alessandro Pio di Savoia inherited the castle of Spezzano from his father Giberto II and decided to make it one of the five headquarters. From this moment on, the manor began its path that will lead it to be less and less used for military purposes and increasingly as a political-administrative residence of the lord. Marco Pio decided to have his palace built on the walls and work began in 1529.

At the end of the 16th century, Marco III Pio di Savoia was lord of Sassuolo and therefore also of Fiorano and Spezzano, in the exercise of his power he decided to demolish the chapel dedicated to Sant’Agata and to use the material thus produced for the construction of the palace in the castle of Spezzano .

On the death of Marco III Pio di Savoia, in 1599, the castle passed to the Duke of Modena and Reggio Cesare d’Este, whose family remained for thirty years until, in 1629, the entire fiefdom and the fortress passed to the marquis Guido Coccapani. Alfonso Coccapani, son of Guido, formally took possession of Fiorano in early June 1651. Spezzano remained the capital of the marquisate, and in particular Castello di Spezzano was the residence of the governor or podestà or commissioner under the orders of the marquis and who represented him as much in civil and judicial administration. After him, Filippo Antonio Coccapani inherited it (1660 – 1723). Coccapani decided to have a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary built, and in 1699 he had an altar with an antependium by the Carpian artist Giammarco Mazzelli built.

When Filippo Antonio Coccapani died on March 5, 1723, the castle then passed to his son Luigi who maintained it until his death in 1755. Luigi was succeeded by his son Ludovico Coccapani, the last feudal lord of Spezzano.

In 1797 the castle obtained the title of Rocca or national palace.

Starting from 1809, the autonomy of Spezzano ceases, which is merged with the Municipality of Sassuolo and consequently ends any public function still in existence of the castle which exclusively becomes the residence of the Coccapani family rented by the royal state property [5]. In 1811 Luigi Maria Coccapani regained ownership of the castle by royal decree [5]. In the period from 1862 to 1890, the Coccapani carried out substantial restorations and extensions of the structure.

In the early 1900s the ownership of the castle passed to the counts Pignatti Morano.

In 1982 the municipality of Fiorano Modenese bought it making it public property.