St. John Lateran Basilica is the oldest of the four major basilicas in the city. This is the place where the pope officiates as bishop of Rome. The cathedral was officially dedicated to the Savior, but in 909 Pope Sergius II decided to dedicate it to St. John the Baptist.
The land where the cathedral sits was once occupied by the estate of the Laterani family. Their estate was confiscated after Platius Lateranus was accused of conspiring against Emperor Nero. Constantine I obtained the estate in the fourth century when he married Fausta, the sister of Emperor Maxentius. In 1309 the property became known as the Patriarchium and later as the Lateran Palace. It became the official residence of the Pope, until the papacy moved to Avignon.
A first basilica was built in 314 at the site of the former stables of Emperor Septimius Severus. It was consecrated ten years later by Pope Sylvester I. In 896 the church was damaged by an earthquake but soon it was rebuilt. After numerous times of earthquakes and fires the building was declared inhabitable so the popes moved to Vatican. The basilica, though, remains Rome’s principal cathedral.
The first Baptistery in Rome
Separate from the building is the basilica’s baptistery, founded by Constantine I in 315 AD. It was the first baptistery in Rome. Its current octagonal shape was created during the papacy of Pope Sixtus III and served as an example for many other baptisteries.
There is also a cloister of the cathedral, accessible from the left transept, which is one of the most beautiful in Rome. It was built between 1222 and 1230 by father and son Vassalletto, who adorned it with a long mosaic freeze in Cosmatesque style. In the ambulatory, which encloses a small garden with a ninthcentury well, you will find some of the artwork that decorated the old basilica. There is also a small museum with some liturgical items such as papal vestments. It is noteworthy that there is a small admission charge to enter the cloister.
Location: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome
Nearby sights: Lateran Baptistery, Holy Stairs, Porta Maggiore
How to get there: Subway: San Giovanni (A)
Nearby hotels: Happy Holiday, Coloseum apartmentsSt.John Lateran area, B&B Basilica Square