San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome The cathedral where the Pope officiates as Bishop of Rome, the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano is the oldest of the four major basilicas in the city. History The land where the cathedral church of Rome sits was once occupied by the Laterani Palace. Constantine I took the palace when he wed a member of this wealthy patrician family named Laterani. In the 4th century, Constantine donated the land for the building of a church. Early structures on the site were damaged by earthquakes, fire, and war, and it wasn’t until 1646 that Pope Innocent X commissioned the architect Francesco Borromini to rebuild the church that we now view. (However, the remaining northern façade dates back to the late 16th century and was designed by Domenico Fontana.) The adjacent Lateran Palace was the official residence of the Pope until it moved to Avignon in 1309. When the popedom moved back to Rome, it settled in the Vatican instead of the Lateran Palace. The church however remained Rome's principal cathedral. Architecture and Design When Borromini was commissioned to rebuild the church, his designs gave the basilica more of a Baroque look than the look of an ancient basilica. Some critics believe San Giovanni in Laterano appears more like a palace than a church, but it’s nevertheless a wonderful place to visit and a must-see for fans of ecclesiastical architecture. The eastern, front façade of San Giovanni in Laterano is probably the most recognizable part of this important basilica. Used in several movies, including Roman Holiday, this façade features gigantic white stone statues of the twelve apostles of Jesus. The statues were designed by a variety of prominent Rococo sculptors of that time period, including Francesco Moratti, Angelo de’ Rossi, and Pierre Le Gros the Younger. Interior You will, however, find a few older pieces remaining, like the ancient statue of Constantine and the giant bronze doors from the Curia building in the Forum Romanum . A fragment of a 14th century fresco of Pope Boniface VIII is also visible. There’s also a wooden table at the papal altar which is said to have been used by St. Peter to celebrate the Eucharist. The Gothic tabernacle, dating from 1367, has a macabre use. It supposedly contains the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul.turkeyarena.com More conspicuous than these relics are the enormous statues that are placed in the twelve niches Borromiri created in the nave. The baroque statues, which were added later, represent the twelve apostles. There are also six papal tombs inside San Giovanni in Laterano. They contain the remains of Alexander III, Sergius IV, Clement XIII, Martin V, Innocent III, and Leo XIII. After Leo XIII, popes were buried in St. Peter’s. The Cloister A visit to the separate Cloister is also a must in order to admire the unique spiral columns and the Cosmatesque mosaics found there. (Cosmatesque was a floor-making style in medieval Italy.) There is a small admission charge to enter the Cloister. Baptisery Also separate is the basilica’s baptistery, octagonal in shape and founded by Pope Sixtus III. Constantine I contributed greatly to the enrichment of the baptistery, and for many decades, it was the only one in Rome.