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San Giovanni in Laterano

San Giovanni in Laterano (17)

The Archbasilica of Saint John of Lateran or San Giovanni in Laterano is the Cathedral of the Italian capital, where the episcopal see of the Bishop of Rome is: the Pope.

The basilica was built in the 3rd century on the land of the Laterans, a noble Italian family stripped of their land by Emperor Constantine, who decided to build the first Roman basilica on them. 

Saint John of Lateran has suffered several reconstructions throughout its history and even a couple of fires. The last remodelling was carried out by Borromini, in 1646.

The façade of the church is Travertine marble and was designed by Alessandro Galilei. You will notice the impressive 15 giant sculptures in it. The three central figures are those of Jesus flanked by Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. The central bronze doors came from the Curia of the Roman Forum, and the door on the extreme right is only opened in Holy Years.

Once you enter the basilica, pay special attention to the 12 niches that Borromini created for the central nave, as well as the silver reliquaries in the form of a bust that contain the heads of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, founders of the Roman Church.

After this, you should spend some time visiting the cloister, created by Pietro Vassalletto between 1215 and 1223. Its walls are decorated with monuments from the original basilica, among which feature one of the oldest papal thrones known. 

If you go to the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, you will see that, as well as the impressive obelisk, there are another two essential places to be visited: the Baptistery and the Palazzo Laterano. 

The Baptistery, although greatly restored, dates from the time of Constantine, and it was in 432 AD when it was given its octagonal form, which has served as an inspiration for baptisteries around the world. You should also know that in the early days of Christianity, the only person who could baptise was the Pope, and he did it precisely in this place. 

As regards the Palazzo Laterano, it was nearly destroyed in the fire of 1308, so Pope Sixtus V ordered Fontana to restore it some years later. Fontana recovered the Sancta Sanctorum, the private chapel of the first popes, which accrued a large quantity of relics, the reason why it was known as the most sacred place on Earth.

Also close to the basilica is the building that houses the Escala Santa, a stairway the steps of which, brought from the Holy Land, it is said are those that Christ climbed in the palace of Pontius Pilate. Even today, many believers continue with the tradition of climbing the 28 steps on their knees.

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