Only four churches of the original seven that once made up this stylistic jumble of buildings remain, but a visit to the Bologna’s Basilica di Santo Stefano is still a fascinating stroll through centuries of religious architecture. With winding passageways linking chapels and cloisters, this is one of the city’s most captivating churches.
The Basilica of Santo Stefano (known locally as the Sette Chiese, or Seven Churches), set on the large, triangular Piazza di Santo Stefano, is among Bologna’s top attractions, and a highlight of any city walking, bike, or Segway tour. Visitors enter the 11th-century Chiesa del Crocifisso, where the remains of Bologna’s patron saint, St. Petronius, lay until it was moved to the Basilica di San Petronio in 2000. The route then passes through a maze of pretty courtyards to the Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro, the Chiesa della Trinitá, and the Chiesa Santi Vitale e Agricola, Bologna’s oldest church, which was constructed with fragments of pilfered Roman flooring and masonry. The complex also houses a museum with a collection of religious paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts. In addition to the Basilica of Santo Stefano, guided tours of Bologna generally include other famous landmarks, including Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica of San Petronio, the Two Towers, and the Church of San Domenico.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Basilica visitors are required to wear modest attire that covers their shoulders and knees.
- Photography without flash is allowed inside.
- Parts of the complex have uneven flooring and low steps, and may not be accessible to wheelchair users.
- A visit to the basilica complex is especially interesting for architecture enthusiasts.
How to Get There
The basilica is located in the center of Bologna’s historic center, just a short walk east from Piazza Maggiore and the Two Towers.
When to Get There
Bologna is notoriously hot in the summer and blustery in winter, which is why the city is home to miles of covered porticoes. A visit to the basilica is the perfect respite from the heat and cold, especially since it stays open all day.
The Legend of the Courtyard of Pontius Pilate
Sandwiched between the Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro and the Chiesa della Trinità, the quiet Courtyard of Pontius Pilate (Cortile di Pilato) gets its name from the central marble basin, said to be where Pontius Pilate washed his hands after condemning Christ to death. Studies have shown that the basin is a Lombard work dating from the 8th century, but the courtyard’s name has stuck.