Originally this 'Palace of Museums' was an arsenal, and then it was converted into the Albergo dei Poveri – the poorhouse. All over Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, but especially in Italy, it was considered progressive to lock up the unemployed, disabled and orphans in buildings like this (and profitable too; usually they were subjected to forced labour). Stately façades like the one here (1764) served to maintain the decorum of the city and to keep respectable folk from worrying too much about what went on inside.
In 1884 the complex was converted again into the Palazzo dei Musei to house the Este picture collections, the Galleria Estense. In later years, the Musei Civici were moved into the ground floor, including Fondo Museo del Risorgimento (closed to the public since 1992) and the Museo Lapidario Estense, which houses Duke Francesco IV’s collection of Roman and medieval stone carvings, tombs and inscriptions.
Another floor of the Palazzo holds the Biblioteca Estense. Among its famous collection of illuminated manuscripts is the Bible of Borso d’Este, made for the Duke of Modena, a gorgeously coloured 1,200-page marvel illustrated in the 15th century by the Emilians Taddeo Crivelli and Franco Rossi. Also on display are maps made by the great Catalan cartographers of the Age of Discovery, including one of the New World made shortly after Columbus’ voyages, and the Canzoniere Occitano, the single most important surviving collection of troubadour poetry.
Largo Porta Sant'Agostino 337
+39 059 203 3125
Museo Lapidario Estense: Tues-Sat 8.30am-7pm; Sun & Mon 2-7pm
Biblioteca Estense: Mon–Thurs 8.30am–7.15pm, Fri 8.30am–3.45pm, Sat and Aug 8.30am–1.45pm
+39 059 222 248
Images by: Icco80