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Bologna, at the Heart of Terra di Motori

Bologna, at the Heart of Terra di Motori

From Italy to North Africa, all around the Mediterranean, remnants of the Roman Civilization tell the story of the remarkable talent and know-how of this ancient people. While many monuments lay in ruin, a few others are still in use today. Such is the case of ancient Via Aemilia and the surrounding region known nowadays as Terra di Motori (Motor Valley).

Built in the 2nd century BC, this ancient road stretches practically in a straight line from Rimini, on the Adriatic coast, to Piacenza, 70 km from Milano, a distance of 176 roman miles (260 km). Several settlements were created along the route, including Bologna (189 BC), Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma (183 BC). Today, the road that still bears the name Via Emilia is identified as SS9 on the map.

Italian car enthusiasts have probably noticed the great number of automobile manufacturers settled along Via Emilia or in close proximity. “Why is that?” we asked Adriana Zini, director of the Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari, in Modena. “Via Emilia is one of the main reasons,” answers Zini. “This region of Emilia-Romagna has a long agricultural tradition.

At the dawn of the 19th century, mechanization of agriculture brought many farmers to develop mechanical skills leading the way to generations of mechanical craftsmen. On the other hand, the long flat stretches of Via Emilia were the perfect testing grounds for the automotive pioneers of the early 20th century. This is why our region, now known as Terra di Motori, the Motor Valley, has attracted a flourishing automotive industry.”

Bologna, the hub of Terra di Motori

You will find the largest concentration of automotive “craftsmen” in a 50-km radius around the city of Bologna. Eduardo Weber (1889-1945) was one of them. This Italian engineer gave birth to the company that bears his name and specializes in the design and manufacturing of carburetors. Although replaced by fuel injection in modern cars, Weber carburetors were highly regarded by several generations of sports and race car builders all over the world and are still in use on collectible cars.

Four brothers from Bologna

 While for most people, Ferrari is the “lord” of Terra di Motori, one must not forget the Commendatore’s greatest rival: Maserati. Officine Alfieri Maserati, founded in 1914 in Bologna by brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto Maserati, took on the Trident as the company logo, borrowing the famous symbol from the god Neptune whose massive statue graces the fountain near Piazza Maggiore in Bologna. Maserati has had an eventful history with many ups and downs. In 1993, the company was merged into the Fiat Group, allowing the rebirth of “the Trident” and the celebration of its 100th anniversary in 2014.  

The Bologna bull

A mere 25 km from Bologna, Sant’Agata Bolognese is the site of Lamborghini, one of Italy’s most famous automotive brands. The factory producing the famous “bulls” and the museum right in front tell the story of Ferrucio Lamborghini (1916-1993), the tractor manufacturer who dared to confront Enzo Ferrari, the “Lord of Maranello” by creating a number of automotive wonders such as the “divine Muira” right under the Commendatore’s nose.

Today, Lamborghini is part of the Volkswagen Group and it continues to amaze with its bold and often fearsome creations. Motorcycle aficionados are doubtless aware that Ducati, “the Ferrari of motorcycles,” has recently joined the Volkswagen Group under the Lamborghini umbrella. The Ducati museum and factory is open to visitors on Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, in Bologna.

Cavallino rampante

There are two cities along Via Emilia forever linked to the myth of Enzo Ferrari. One is Modena, hometown of Ferrari who was born in 1898, where a superb museum was completed in 2012 in honour of the famous son right next to his birth place. A jewel of modern architecture, Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari features several events surrounding sports and racing cars from around the world.  Also in Modena, is the Stanguellini Collection located on Via Emilia, right behind the city’s oldest Fiat dealership where Vittorio Stanguellini designed and built his many attractive small sports and racing cars.

Further south, some 20 minutes from Modena, is the city of Maranello, Ferrari headquarters whose entrance is dominated by an impressive stainless steel sculpture of the Prancing Horse by Albanian artist Helidon Xhixha. The world over, Maranello has become synonymous with Ferrari. The sprawling industrial complex where all Cavallinos are designed and built is next to the recently renovated and expanded Ferrari Museum, several restaurants honouring the Cavallino, private garages where highly skilled mechanics maintain and restore the red cars, as well as numerous suppliers, including Carrozzeria Scaglietti, Ferrari’s preferred coachbuilder. A few steps from the gates leading to Pista di Fiorano, on Via G. Villeneuve, do take a moment to remember our very own “piccolo grande Canadese.”

Pagani, Minardi, De Tomaso, Ducati and others

Alejandro de Tomaso, an Argentinean of Italian descent, settled in Modena and founded De Tomaso Automobili in 1959. He was followed in 1992 by Horacio Pagani, another Argentinean, whose company specializes in composite materials and builds the Pagani Zonda (1999) and Huayra (2011), two awesome supercars rivaling the most extravagant automobiles ever created.

Fans of Formula 1 surely remember Minardi, known today as Toro Rosso, the Italian arm of World Champion Red Bull. Minardi was founded in Faenza, south east of Bologna, in 1979 by Giancarlo Minardi. Although it had very limited success in F1, the team had a huge following of tifosi and was famous, among other things, for serving the best espresso of all F1 team.

Originally published on:

Panoram Italia Living Magazine – April - 2014 - Written by Alain Raymond