San Giovanni in Laterano - Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran

Picture of Sebastian Erkens
Sebastian Erkens

Alongside St. Peter’s Basilica, the Cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano is the most important church in the Eternal City. It is the oldest and largest of the four papal basilicas in Rome and one of the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome.

Exploring the famous archbasilica of Saint John in Lateran is one of the best things to do in Rome! It is also known as the “mother of all churches.” Inside the church, you will find impressive works by Bernini, such as the over 4-metre-high marble apostle figures.

There is a treasury and a cloister from the 13th century that is well worth seeing. The popes were enthroned here until 1870. Even today, the papal mass on Maundy Thursday is said in the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.

Archbasilica St. John in Lateran

What many visitors to the Basilica need to learn at first is the fact that the Lateran Basilica was the seat of the popes until the 15th century. Only when the popes moved to Vatican City did the church lose some of its importance.

Visitor Information:

Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano 4, 00184 Roma

Subway stop: San Giovanni, line A.
Buses: 16, 81, 85, 87, 186, 650, 810, 850

Opening hours:
Basilica: 07:00 – 18:30
Sacristy: 08:00 – 12:00 and 16:00 – 18:00
Cloister: 09:00 – 18:00
Baptistery: 07:00 – 12:30 and 16:00 – 19:00
Basilica Museum: 10:00 – 17:30

Basilica San Clemente al Laterano (0,8 km)
Colosseum (1,3 km)
Baths of Caracalla (1,3 km)

Our tip:
With the Omnia Card Rome, you receive a ticket and audio guide to the Lateran Basilica’s cloister.

You also get free entry to the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel and much more!

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Explore San Giovanni in Laterano, including the treasury museum and cloister.

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Highlights in the Basilica of St. John in Lateran

  • Papal altar with relics of St. Paul and St. Peter
  • Papal tomb of Pope Sergius IV (1009-1012), Pope Alexander III (1159-1181), Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), Pope Martin V (1417-1431), Pope Clement XIII (1730-1740), Pope Leo XII (1878-1903)
  • Fantastic ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo’s pupil Giacomo della Porta
  • Bernini’s marble statues of the 11 apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, Thomas, John, James the Younger, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon
  • Cloister from 1232 with magnificent mosaic columns
  • Treasury with relics of John the Baptist
  • The holy staircase, “Scala Santa,” leads to the main chapel, “Sancta Sanctorum.”
  • The largest of Rome’s 13 obelisks (the obelisk from Egypt stood at the Circus Maximus until 1588)

The history of Saint John Lateran

The Lateran Basilica was built under Emperor Constantine the Great in 313 A.D., and he also concluded the Milan Agreement in the same year. The agreement marked the beginning of religious freedom and, therefore, had an enormous influence on the development of Christianity.

Over time, the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano was repeatedly confronted with new challenges. This was followed by a severe earthquake in 896 and major looting by the Germanic tribes.

In the 14th century, two severe fires finally ravaged the Lateran Basilica of San Giovanni. Over the centuries, the Basilica was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt in parts.

The church was not wholly renovated until 1646 under the direction of Pope Innocent X. The aim was to baroque and stabilize the Papal Basilica for the Holy Year.


Around one hundred years later, the Lateran Basilica finally received its current façade and 15 further sculptures, all of which were created by Alessandro Galilei. The main altar, located in the central nave of the Basilica, is said to have housed the heads of St. Paul and St. Peter since 1367.

The octagonal baptistery dates back to the 5th century and is the only medieval relic in San Giovanni in Laterano. The name “Lateran” is derived from the Roman Laterani family, which owned the property for centuries until it was confiscated by Emperor Nero in 65.

The Lateran Palace, located next to the Basilica entrance, was the popes’ official residence until 1309. It will be used for cultural and museum purposes in the future.

Where in Rome is the Lateran Basilica located?

Editor: Sebastian Erkens
Hey and welcome to Rome-Tourist! My name is Sebastian and I travel regularly to Rome, Italy.
On our Rome blog you will get valuable travel tips. If you have any questions about specific tours or sights, feel free to leave us a comment.

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