Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano

sights / Religious

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano information

Rome , Italy
Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano 4
Getting there
Metro: San Giovanni
basilica free, cloister €3
Opening hours
7am-6.30pm, cloister 9am-6pm
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For a thousand years this monumental cathedral was the most important church in Christendom. Commissioned by the Emperor Constantine and consecrated in AD 324, it was the first Christian basilica built in the city and, until the late 14th century, was the pope’s main place of worship. It is still Rome’s official cathedral and the pope’s seat as the bishop of Rome.

Surmounted by fifteen 7m-high statues – Christ with St John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and the 12 Apostles – Alessandro Galilei’s huge white facade is a mid-18th century example of late-baroque classicism. The central bronze doors were moved here from the Curia in the Roman Forum, while on the far right, the carved Holy Door is only opened in Jubilee years. The interior has been revamped on numerous occasions, although it owes much of its present look to Francesco Borromini who redecorated it for the 1650 Jubilee. It’s a breathtaking sight with a spectacular gilt ceiling, a beautiful 15th-century mosaic floor, and a wide central nave lined with 4.6m-high sculptures of the apostles. At the head of the nave, the Gothic baldachin over the papal altar is a dramatic work containing the relics of the heads of saints Peter and Paul. In front of the altar, a double staircase leads down to the confessio, which houses the Renaissance tomb of Pope Martin V.

Behind the altar, the massive apse is decorated with sparkling mosaics, parts of which date to the 4th century, but most of which was added in the 19th century.

On the first pilaster in the right-hand nave is an incomplete Giotto fresco. While admiring it, cock your ear towards the next pilaster, where a monument to Pope Sylvester II (r 999–1003) is said to sweat and creak when the death of a pope is imminent. To the left of the altar, the beautiful 13thcentury cloister is a lovely, peaceful place with graceful Cosmatesque twisted columns set around a central garden.