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The city of Modena is well known for balsamic vinegar and sports car production, and is internationally renowned for its gastronomy. However, Modena’s centro storico (historic centre) and its many layers of histories and memories, along with quotidian patterns of human activity, contribute to a unique and multifaceted ‘sense of place’ for both residents and visitors. Current discourse on the Italian centro storico focuses on preserving public memory within discussions of historic centre management, and the ideological importance of the centro storico in conceptualising national identity. However, analyses of Modena’s centro storico are largely absent from the literature. This research expands on narrow depictions of Modena in current scholarship, beyond balsamic vinegar and the Motor Valley, by exploring residents’ relationships with and perceptions of Modena’s centro storico during historical walking tours. As discovered in pilot research, Modena’s small tourism sector combined with local interest has enabled the development of specialised walking tours aimed at Modenese residents. This phenomenon of residents acting as tourists in their own city provides an interesting position from which to examine how the re-exploration of the centro storico through walking affects Modenese residents’ relationships with place. Accordingly, this research seeks to address the following question:

How is ‘sense of place’ influenced by walking tours of Modena’s centro storico? 

To answer this question, a mixed-method ethnographic approach was employed, including interviews, participant observation and photography. Section 1 of this paper addresses how the sociality and emplaced nature of walking allows tour participants to experience the dynamic nature of place. Additionally, it examines how tours influence participants’ relationships with the centro storico through facilitating both guided and unguided discoveries. Section 2 examines tour formats, including guides’ specific methods of presentation, and how participants share personal stories and memories of place through exploring their locality. Moreover, it explores how collective experiences shape participants’ understandings of past events in the centre, and thus their relationship to place. Through the frame of place as an archive, Section 3 examines how the Modenese Municipality's preservation of material traces of past events, and tour guides’ dissemination of otherwise-unknown stories behind such physical elements, curate collective memories and a sense of place for participants.

AW Collection


Walking the centro storico: 

How historical walking tours influence

'sense of place' in Modena's Historic Centre



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