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We visited three of Rome’s four major basilicas. Less well known than St. Peter’s, the Basilica of St. John Lateran is nonetheless an important part of the Church’s history. It is, in fact, the Cathedral of Rome.

In this article, you’ll find a summary of its history, essential information to help you prepare for your visit, and some of our photos.

A look back at the history of the Basilica of St John Lateran

Commonly known as the Basilica (or archibasilica) of St. John Lateran in French, its original Italian name is Basilica Papale Giovanni in Laterano.

It was built in the 4th century on the lands of the Laterani family, reclaimed by Emperor Constantine during his reign. Originally called the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior, it was the first Christian church to be consecrated. It is also the seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, making it the Cathedral of Rome. Until the early 14th century, the popes lived in the Lateran Palace adjoining the basilica.

By virtue of its role, age and size, it is considered the mother of all churches, as the Latin inscription on the front of the monument indicates.

Over the centuries, the basilica has suffered considerable damage, notably from earthquakes and fires. As a result, it has been largely rebuilt. Its current appearance is largely the result of work carried out in the 17th century on the interior and in the 18th century on the façade.

Today, the archibasilica of St. John Lateran still hosts important religious celebrations held by the Pope, such as the Holy Thursday service.

Where is the Basilica of Saint John Lateran?

The basilica is located in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano. It’s 1.5 km southeast of the Colosseum and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

You can get there by metro lines A and C, or by streetcar line 3. In both cases, get off at the San Giovanni stop.  Numerous bus lines also serve Porta San Giovanni.

Do I have to pay to enter the Basilica of St. John Lateran?

Like all other Roman basilicas and churches, admission is free.

Access to the cloister is not free. You must pay €5 per person.

You can also pay extra for an audioguide to make the most of your visit.

Allow at least 2 hours for a complete tour of the basilica, cloister, baptistery and museum.

What are the opening hours of the Basilica of St John Lateran?

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

If you plan to take the full tour, please note that the other parts to be visited have significantly different schedules:

  • Cloister: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Baptistery: 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Basilica Museum: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Our return visit to the Basilica of St John Lateran

The Basilica of St. John Lateran was on the itinerary for our last day in Rome. Located a little further south of the city center, we visited it before moving on to the Baths of Caracalla and the Circus Maximus.

We had planned to see the basilica, but knew nothing about its construction or history. We were quickly taken aback by its sheer size. At 110 meters long and 65 meters wide, it’s the second largest church after St. Peter’s Basilica. The façade is beautiful and well maintained.

As this is one of Rome’s major basilicas, security measures are in place to gain entry. Barriers are set up and your bag is scanned. We were there on a weekday morning, so there weren’t many people and we didn’t have to wait long. Carabinieri were stationed at the exit. We were even allowed an identity check.

The visit to the basilica was a pleasant one, all the more so with so few people around. Chairs were still set up everywhere in the central nave and side aisles, showing that the church easily accommodates several hundred people on Sundays (we were there on Monday).

We didn’t see the cloister, baptistery and museum, because we simply didn’t know it was possible. With a little more information, we would surely have chosen to visit them to learn more about them.

However, you can do as we do and simply visit the basilica. With its many sculptures, the nave’s ceiling and the organ adorned in gold, you’re visiting a monument steeped in history.

To conclude, I’d like to invite you to discover our photos, which are worth more than a few hundred words to describe the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

Basilica Saint John Lateran constantin
The sculpture of Emperor Constantine was brought from the Quirinal Baths.
Basilica Saint John Lateran sculpture
Like many other Roman monuments, the facade is highly elaborate, with numerous sculptures.
Basilica Saint John Lateran view
The impressive nave is surrounded by 12 sculptures, corresponding to each apostle.
Basilica Saint John Lateran ceilings
Don’t forget to admire the gilded ceiling…
Basilica Saint John Lateran interior
The number of chairs in the church for Sunday mass is impressive.
Basilica Saint John Lateran art
This is the sculpture of St. Matthew.
Basilica Saint John Lateran music
The basilica’s golden Great Organ.
Rome Saint John Lateran
The basilica’s apse.
Basilica Saint John Lateran architecture
This is one of the basilica’s side aisles, filled with chairs and screens set up for Sunday.


I love travels, photos and food. Through this blog, I like to share my experiences and travel tips.