Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri
The Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri is one of Pisa’s many fascinating historical monuments. The white marble exterior makes the church one of the most opulent structures on Piazza dei Cavalieri and one of the most photographed buildings in the area. The church was built when the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen was founded.
While largely the architectural work of Giorgio Vasari, the man behind the Knight’s Square and the nearby Palazzo della Carovana, the church’s exterior was designed by the illegitimate son of the first Duke of Tuscany. Inside, the church resembles a military museum as much as a place of worship, with banners seized from Saracen pirates sitting alongside other military relics.
The interior’s main feature is its painted ceiling. Six events from the order’s long military history are depicted, including Victory in the Greek Archipelago by Jacopo da Empoli. Gaze at the painted wooden panels, all of which are surrounded by blue and gold stucco sculptures.
Walk through the main nave to reach the altar, an elaborate example of Giovanni Battista Foggini’s sculpture work. Built at the beginning of the 18th century, the altar features two depictions of St. Stephen: a statue with head and a relief upon a bronze throne, which depicts the saint after his decapitation.
If you can hear the deep tones of the church organ you know that a ceremonial service is in progress. While three organs reside within the church, only the most modern of the three remains in use.
The Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri is located on Pisa’s Knight’s Square in the Santa Maria district. It can be reached on foot or by bus from the city center. There is metered parking in the area, but it is notoriously difficult to find. The church is open daily and a modest admission fee applies.