Piazza Mazzini is one of the most elegant and fascinating parts of the old town, thanks to its particular history and to its wonderful houses.
The whole area was crowded with buildings from 1638, when the Duke of Modena, Francesco I, decided to create the Ghetto of the city. At the time, there was a large Jewish community, which had followed the Estensi from Ferrara. Until 1859, with the Unification of Italy, when the ghetto was opened, the area was closed every night by gates, whose hinges can still be seen at the end of via Blasia. Nowadays, the houses have irregular backs: floors were built out and windows were opened unmethodically to create more space for houses or even Synagogues.
In 1893 the area was demolished to open out a square – at the time called Liberty Square – setting off the main Synagogue built twenty years before. The houses were then rebuilt in the prestigious style of the early XX century.
Number 1, casa Levi Finzi, designed by Arturo Prati in 1907, has painted tiles and a wonderful Art-Nouveau balcony. Number 10, casa Formiggini Donati, by Prati himself (1905), is a good example of the German Wagner Schule style, with characteristic floral decorations on the facade.
Number 43, casa Manicardi has a richly decorated facade: the balcony is held up by two monstruous gargoyles. Number 51, the biggest edifice in the square is called casa Levi and was restored in 1911: the left side has a valuable cornice, the right one (probably medieval) a beautiful portico along via Emilia°°, with columns and capitals of 16th century terracotta. It is frescoed with views of Modena (the Cathedral, the town hall, the Ducal Palace, the churches of San Domenico and San Pietro) and famous Modenese artists such as Adeodato Malatesta and Luigi Poletti.