The Lateran Archbasilica


Sightseeing in Rome means often visiting several churches famous for the architecture and the art pieces displayed inside. In most European cities, no matter Catholic or Protestant one usually visits one main cathedral, sometimes another famous church, and that’s it. In this respect, Rome is different. There are around 900 churches here. Sightseeing churches are on a must-see list, whether to admire the interiors or an original piece by Bernini or Raphael or another famous artist. But still there is a problem of visiting numerous churches in a short period, and quickly forgetting what we have seen in which church.

Rome’s churches, at least those most famous ones have some distinctive features, that cannot be seen in other places in Europe. Churches in Rome are usually quite old ones, however many times rebuilt or reconstructed. In Rome, it was always customary that building materials were removed from one place to decorate another one. The most prominent example is probably the bronze reliefs that once adorned the ceiling in the Pantheon. They had been melted down so that the bronze might have been used to make the famous St. Peter’s Basilica altar (by Bernini). The other distinctive feature is that inside the churches, we may often find art pieces by famous artists (pictures, frescoes, sculptures, etc.). We have, however, to bear in mind, that the Catholic Church (popes and bishops) like kings and princes in many other countries hired talented artists to decorate the interiors. Some of the famous artists and their workshops could have shown the world their work, and this way got famous because the Church was their sponsor.

Further, there is the problem of not knowing what to look at, the ceiling, the floor, walls, or numerous pieces of art. All the details are worked out very precisely. Of specific things for Western European standards are the Byzantine frescoes and mosaics at walls and ceilings, typical for South-Eastern Europe, hard to find in the Western tradition. For different reasons, either invited or because they fled the country, some Byzantine artists worked in Europe since the times of Charlemagne and his heirs. The other feature is marble walls and pillars, as marble formations are spread all over Italy, and marble is a natural building element.

Below a small selection of photos from one of the most prominent and oldest (with origins back in IV century) churches in Rome, the Lateran Archbasilica (Archbasilica of St. John Lateran), a church or a cathedral that although located in the city of Rome is an extra-territorial Vatican (Holy See >>>) property. In the past, the basilica and the adjacent palace were the official seat of popes. It lost its splendor as popes moved to Avignon. The modern interior is a combination of works that had been conducted mainly in XVI-XVIII centuries. In the hierarchy of basilicas of Rome, this one is preceding the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city.


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The central nave, with figures of 12 apostles alongside it.


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Vestibule, richly covered with marble. Although its interior was designed centuries later, you quickly can get the impression that you visit a palace in ancient Rome. 


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A piece of the floor arrangement in the vestibule.


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The ceiling of the vestibule.


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Bronze doors at the main entrance inside of the vestibule, taken from Curia Iulia building at Forum Romanum. In ancient Rome, Curia Iulia hosted the Roman Senate.


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The floor mosaics in the central nave in the so-called Cosmati style. Cosmati was a Roman family of artists. They specialized among others in designing and making of mosaics. 


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The ceiling in the central nave. While in Rome, it is always recommendable to look up.


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One of the 12 statues of the apostles located alongside the central nave. This one by Pierre le Gros is of St. Thomas.


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The look downstairs onto the confessio (adjacent in front to the main altar) covered with beautiful marble. Behind the stairs rail, the view onto the tomb of Pope Martin V.  

Confessio is a crypt to which you can get from inside a church taking the stairs down. It is usually linked to corridors and chambers containing tombs.  During our visit to Rome, we saw confessios in several churches.


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The apse located at the very end of the basilica building, behind the altar. Traditionally it has a semi-circular shape, richly decorated Byzantine style (mosaics at the top with figures shown at the golden background).


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