Knights of St. Stephen

Knights of Santo Stefano, born to free the Mediterranean from the Barbarians and restore safety to navigation, Cosimo I, on 9 January 1561, established the Military Maritime Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano. The Order welcomed young people from all over Italy to Pisa which, due to its maritime traditions, represented a center worthy of respect for the memory of the great dominion it had had in the Mediterranean. Born during the wars that tore Europe apart and that granted the Barbareschi a free hand over the Mediterranean, which has now become their dominion.


The Knightly Order born in 1561 in Portoferraio on the island of Elba

Knights of St. Stephen red eight-pointed cross with gold pomade on a white background

The first seat of the Order was Portoferraio on the island of Elba , then definitively Pisa. Piazza dei Cavalieri takes its name from this order, as does the church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri . The insignia of the order are the eight-pointed red cross bordered with gold on a white background, set aside by golden lilies. The knights of Santo Stefano were “nobles, soldiers, knights of justice, servants and brothers in arms” and to be admitted they had to demonstrate four degrees of paternal and maternal nobility.

As coat of arms the Institution has adopted a red cross with eight points of gold ointment on a white field surmounted by the initials “S.R.D.S.” (Sacred Religion of S . Stefano ) and as Motto “NOMINI MEO ADSCRIBATUR VICTORIA” («The victory is linked to my name»).

The success of the order was remarkable and also extended beyond the borders of Tuscany, among other Italian and foreign states, leaving an excellent reputation. Its mission was to free the Mediterranean from Muslim pirates and Christians from Ottoman slavery.


Knights Holy Stefano and Elba

In April 1548 Cosimo I ‘obtained permission to build his fortified city to protect the natural harbor of Portoferraio which was to serve as a shelter for his ships. The works proceeded with extraordinary rapidity and, once the fort FALCONE, the fort STELLA and the TORRE della Linguella have been built, the fortified site well equipped with artillery, is now impregnable and impregnable. The construction of the formidable bastions that characterize Portoferraio will be done calmly in subsequent years. Cosimo is well aware, however, that the territory of Elba is absolutely defenseless, so much so that at the news of a probable invasion of the island by the French troops allied with the Ottomans, he makes himself available to receive and protect the islanders who take refuge in Portoferraio. The military need to establish the Knights of Santo Stefano. In 1553, as expected, the Turkish army, just reunited with the French one and with 60 galleys and 22 galeots, headed for Elba and foundered in the Gulf of LUNGONE (neither the town of Porto Azzurro nor the fort still existed. S. Giacomo, built by the Spaniards in the early 1600s). From there began the attack on Capoliveri, Rio Elba and the fort of GIOGO, while a part of the Turkish army, under the command of MUSTAFA ‘BASSA’ destroyed the island of Pianosa. Subsequently the Turkish-French army headed south of the island to destroy S. Piero, S.Ilario, Poggio, Marciana and Pomonte. Portoferraio was not attacked because it was now considered impregnable. In 1558 a new Turkish aggression occurs, but the islanders have time to take refuge in Portoferraio and do not report any damage.

The Knights dominate the Mediterranean

The time has come to no longer think only of defense, but, finally, to move to the counterattack by looking for Turkish ships, in any part of the Tyrrhenian Sea, to destroy them. Cosimo thinks of establishing a military Order (Knights of Santo Stefano) in imitation of that of the Knights Templar for the defense of the ports and the sea of ​​Tuscany. Dal Galluzzi: “The visit made to his marines had made Cosimo aware of the importance and the need to guard them against Turkish raids. He remained convinced of the usefulness of a militia which, by taking care only of the sea, removed pirates from the Tuscan coasts. The maintenance of 6 galleys was too expensive; and King Philip of Spain was not willing to contribute for them. He therefore imagined erecting a military Order with which the same intent could be achieved without suffering the burden: he took advantage of the Pope’s benevolence. to withdraw a subsidy from the ecclesiastical patrimonies; he interested the vanity of the rich by giving them a mark of honor and privileges; he himself contributed his own to these works and decorated his own sovereignty with new faculties and prerogatives. to eternalize the memory of his victories of MONTEMURLO and SCANNAGALLO, which both happened on the 2nd day of August; and since on that day the martyr Roman logio indicates the death of St. Stephen, pope and martyr, so that Saint was invoked as protector of the Order. “On the morning of March 15, 1562, the envoy of Pope Pius IV presented the Duke, in a solemn form, the approved Statutes and the bubble of concessions. The Apostolic Nuncio awarded him the uniform of the new order of which Cosimo assumed the office of Grand Master.

Knights of S. Stefano in Portoferraio

Cosimo had decided to place the residence of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen in Portoferraio and had specially built a convent and a church (the current De Laugier congress center). Then, however, since Portoferraio seemed too small to be accepted by the scions of noble families who aspired to the title of Knight, he chose to build the seat of the Order in Pisa “because it was ancient and illustrious and, after Florence, the first of his state”. The Palazzo dei Cavalieri (now the seat of the Scuola Normale Superiore) and the church of the Knights were built in 1565.

The Order of the Knights of St. Stefano , born in 1562, was suppressed with the end of the sovereignty of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine over Tuscany in 1859. In the hall of council of the town hall of Portoferraio a large painting by Carlo MORELLI portrays the Grand Duke LEOPOLDO IP D’ASBURGO-LORENA with the insignia of the Order of the Knights. A Knight of S. Stefano, Count G.BATTISTA FERRETTI of Ancona, who died at the age of 18, is buried in the Church of S. Rocco in Portoferraio.

(Luigi Maroni)


Former barracks of the Knights of Santo Stefano

Former barracks of the Knights of Santo Stefano today De Laugier Cultural Center

Former barracks of the ’Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano , founded in Portoferraio in 1562 at the behest of Cosimo I de ‘Medici, to defend and safeguard the Tyrrhenian seas from Barbary piracy. Currently, the historic building houses an important “De Laugier Cultural and Congress Center” in the city of Portoferraio .


Memories of travels and navigations by Ignazio Fabbroni Knight of the Order of Santo Stefano


Knight of the Order of Santo Stefano, the Pistoian nobleman Ignazio Fabbroni embarked on the grand-ducal galleys from 1664 to 1687 and documented his wanderings through a series of drawings that are now preserved in a single album at the National Central Library of Florence . Of the 842 drawings in the corpus, 23 concern the island of Elba and allow us to grasp sections of daily life from the second half of the 17th century.

Disegni di viaggi di Ignazio Fabbroni Cavaliere di Santo Stefano

The representations, of great documentary interest, but far from insignificant as regards the graphic and pictorial quality, due to their private nature almost a divertissement of the traveler from a rich family who delights in sketching the visions of his Mediterranean travels as a Knight of Santo Stefano, have the rare ability to restore the richness of daily life called a seventeenth-century city after three centuries. Windows open onto the streets of Portoferraio that show us women caught in the act of reciting the rosary or sewing surrounded by pets and farmyard animals and fishermen repairing their nets.

Disegni di viaggi di Ignazio Fabbroni Cavaliere di Santo Stefano

The drawing concerning the arsenal of the Galeazze is very interesting, where we find Turkish slaves at work around a log to be sawed or a barrel to be circled; a snapshot of the shipyard where Fabbroni documents construction techniques and tools in the period of the Knights of Santo Stefano, the work of the arsenal also continues outside, with the boats pulled out of the water. “to the tanning”.


The view of the Lazzaretto documents the use of quarantining the crews of ships coming from suspicious places.
The two drawings “Porto Lungone di Spagnia” and “Rio or Cala del Ferro del Principe Ludovisio” they give account of the original titles, of the sovereigns, that of “Spain” for Porto Longone and the Ludovisio prince of Piombino for Rio.