What everyone calls the Santo Stefano Square is actually just a widening of the namesake Via Santo Stefano that once was outside the city walls. This street was used daily by dozens of pilgrims to reach Florence who found a place of worship and rest in the Basilica Santo Stefano, also called the Seven Churches.
Buildings of some of the most important families in town overlook the square. On the right-hand-side, with the Seven Churches behind us, the belongings of the Isolani family can be seen. A street full of shops, cloisters, art galleries and restaurants starts right under the portico of the Isolani’s home, famous for the three arrows stuck in its wooden ceiling.
One of the funniest legends in Bologna talks about them: as the legend goes, three hitmen were sent by a jealous husband to kill his wife and her lover; the woman realized the danger and exposed herself, naked, out of the window distracting the assassins. Their arrows went well beyond their target and remained stuck in the ceiling.
On the left-hand of Piazza Santo Stefano stands the Tacconi’s home, easily recognized because of the different styles thrown together on its main façade. The Palazzo Pasquini-Bianchi follows suit and, ending this sequence of ancient buildings, we find the Palazzo Salina Amorini, decorated with different faces in terracotta by Alfonso Lombardi. If you have a little spare time while visiting Bologna, have fun looking at the different expressions and features of these faces.
The area developed around Piazza Santo Stefano is one the central modern sites of the city, for 2 reasons. The first one is related to Pier Paolo Pasolini, son of a Fascist official, who was born nearby and lived here until his father moved.
The second one, Bologna belongs to the so-called Motor Valley, the modern name given to the area between Modena and Bologna with an excellent engine production (let’s mention that in this place we can find Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and many others). The first official Maserati house was founded in the small and narrow street beside Tacconi’s house, Via de Pepoli. A few years ago, a plaque with the family’s logo was placed there in its commemoration. Until the 90s, the square was open to traffic and used as a parking lot, but after a city council’s resolution, the area was closed to traffic and can now be enjoyed by pedestrians in all safety.
Three of the 7 buildings that form the Basilica of Santo Stefano open towards the square: starting from the left-hand side we find the church dedicated to the saints Vitale and Agricola, in the middle the octagonal Church of the Holy Sepulchre and lastly the Church of the Crucifix, which is currently used as the main entrance to the complex.
There once was a hostel to welcome pilgrims on the boulevard next to the Seven Churches. The whole architectural appearance of the complex has changed due to the several restorations undergone through 1800 and 1900.
Nowadays the square is the stage for concerts, manifestations, art exhibitions and on the second weekend of every month one of the best-known antique trade markets in the city.