See spectacular art in the ‘mother of all churches’.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the oldest basilica in the world and is the highest-ranking of the four papal basilicas in Rome – including St. Peter’s in the Vatican. It’s not only a place of historical importance, but it’s also beautiful to behold and an unmissable stop in your Roman itinerary.
- Admire the 12 statues of the apostles sculpted in the 18th century. Which ones can you recognize?
- Visit the beautiful and intricate 13th-century cloister, considered Vassalletto’s masterpiece.
- Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and climb the Scala Sancta, said to be brought from Jerusalem.
Tickets & Prices
Entrance to the Basilica of St. John Lateran is free, but there are small fees to pay if you want to visit the cloister or the museum of the Lateran treasury.
Remember to wear appropriate footwear and to have your knees and shoulders covered, as this is a holy site.
Tickets for the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran
If you want to get the most out of your visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran and the attractions in the surrounding area, we suggest you consider this all-inclusive ticket. Here’s what you’ll get:
- An audio guide with two hours of content in either English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish.
- Access to the Scala Sancta and the Sancta Sanctorum.
- Access to the Cloister.
- Access to the Baptistery.
- Access to the Museum of the Lateran Treasury.
Simply select a date and book online. You’ll get instant ticket delivery directly to your email, which you can then show to the ORP desk (on the left-hand side of the Lateran corridor inside the basilica) on your smartphone on the day of your visit. Free cancellation is included until 23:59 on the day before your visit.
What to See and Do
The Basilica of St. John Lateran and the surrounding area are packed full of historical and religious attractions, as well as magnificent works of art and architecture. Here are just some of the things you shouldn’t miss.
The Basilica Interior
Upon entering the basilica, you’ll be awestruck by its sheer scale and magnificence, and you can spend hours marveling at its every detail.
As you admire Borromini’s architectural skills, take a look at the twelve niches on the sides, each one holding a sculpture of an apostle. For those who know a little about religious art, you may be able to recognize them by the symbols they are represented with.
As you walk through the church, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling. The panels of gilded wood were made by Giacomo della Porta, based on a design by his mentor, Michelangelo. The central bronze doors originally came from the Senate in the Roman Forum.
The basilica is also the final resting place of six different popes. There used to be twelve more tombs, but they were destroyed in a fire. Pope John X (914-928), although his tomb no longer exists, was the first pope to be buried within the walls of Rome. Meanwhile, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) was the last pope to be buried outside St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Scala Sancta and the Sancta Sanctorum
Just across the street from the Basilica lies the Scala Sancta, or Holy Steps. Said to have been brought to Rome from Jerusalem during the fourth century, these are allegedly the steps that Jesus climbed up when he appeared before Pontius Pilate and was sentenced to death.
Today, you can climb up the 28 steps as well. It might sound like an easy feat, but you’ll have to do it on your knees!
Located at the top of the stairs is the Sancta Sanctorum or Holy of Holies, the original private chapel of the papacy and one of the most sacred places in the world. You can have a peek at it through a glass window.
The Cloister, built by Pietro Vassalletto in the 13th century, is the only part that survives of a former monastery built between the basilica and the city walls. Considered a masterpiece of Cosmatesque art, the twisted marble columns and the simple elegance of the courtyard make it a beautiful place to explore.
Behind the basilica lies the octagonal structure that is the Baptistery. Founded by Pope Sixtus III, it was the very first of its kind in Rome and became the model for others throughout Italy. Legend has it that Emperor Constantine himself was baptized here.
The Museum of the Lateran Treasury, located inside the basilica, has one of the most important collections of liturgical art in Rome. Aside from two statues of St. John the Baptist, there are also numerous reliquaries. Don’t miss the 13th-century Lateran Cross or the relics of St. John the Evangelist and Saint Barbara.
Although it’s not located in the historic center, the Basilica of St. John Lateran is still in the center of greater Rome, just inside the old Roman walls, and is easily accessible by public transportation.
- Address: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano
- Metro: Line A or C – San Giovanni
- Tram: Line 3 – Porta S. Giovanni/Carlo Felice
- Bus: 16, 81, 85, 87, 117, 665, and 792 all stop near or on the piazza where the basilica is located.
Did You Know That: 4 Interesting Facts
- Until 1870, the basilica was the site where all the popes were enthroned.
- The pope still celebrates Holy Thursday Mass here every year.
- Even though the church is located outside of the Vatican, it still has extraterritorial status from Italy, as it belongs to the Holy See.
- The church was dedicated three different times: originally to the Most Holy Savior, Jesus Christ; then in the 9th century to St. John the Baptist. Then three centuries later to St. John the Evangelist.
- The original basilica was erected in the 4th century by Constantine, famous for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. It was built on land formerly owned by the prominent Lateran family, from which the area gets its name. It served as the original papal residence.
- Over the years, it was sacked twice by Barbarians, damaged by earthquakes, and even caught fire twice. It was constantly being renovated and rebuilt.
- In 1377, following a period of exile in France, the papacy returned to Rome only to find the basilica uninhabitable. Their residency was moved to St. Peter’s in the Vatican, where it remains to this day.
- Several attempts were made to rebuild the basilica, but it wasn’t until the sixteenth century with Pope Sixtus V that a project was finalized. He assigned the project to architect Domenico Fontana, who erected the current edifice.
- During the seventeenth century, further changes and repairs were made to the interior by renowned baroque architect Francesco Borromini. He put in the twelve niches and five huge arches.
- In 1718, the niches were finally filled with statues of the twelve apostles, sculpted by prominent Rococo sculptors.
- In 1731, Pope Clement XII held a competition for the design of the façade, which was won by Alessandro Galilei. It was completed in 1735 and remains to this day.
- Today, the basilica is considered one of the most important and beautiful in Rome and is visited by pilgrims and tourists daily.
Address: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Piazza di Porta San Giovanni 4, 00184 Roma, Italy · view larger map