The long, looming presence across Piazza Sant'Agostino from the Palazzo dei Musei is Modena's former hospital, now called the Palazzo Sant'Agostino. Duke Francesco III had it built in 1758, and then doubled its already impressive size to add a military hospital in the 1770's.
When the hospital decamped for a more modern facility on the outskirts, Modena had to find a new use for the building. Inevitably, in the Europe of today, that meant some sort of 'cultural centre'. The city and the Cassa di Risparmio di Modena have been pushing the project, and Gae Aulenti, the Milanese architect famous for the conversion of the Gare d'Orsay in Paris, got the job.
Progress has been slow, complicated by the usual Italian bureaucratic tangles and the 2012 death of architect Aulenti, and it is hard to predict when work will finally get underway. When it is finished, the 'Polo Culturale' or "Casa della Cultura' or whatever they finally decide to call it, will be a mixed-use project with a small auditorium, a school and exhibition space for photography, shops, residences and a restaurant, as well as new homes for the Biblioteca Estense and the Biblioteca Poletti, both now in the Palazzo dei Musei.
Meanwhile, exhibitions are occasionally held inside, and if you should happen to find the Palazzo open, have a peek inside for the beautiful 18th-century pharmacy, left completely intact and in its original state, with frescoes of the great physicians of antiquity.
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Images by: Ufficio di Turismo, Cassa di Risparmio di Modena