Underground Line A takes us to Piazza di Porta S. Giovanni; we
go through the Aurelian Walls at the ancient Porta Asinaria,
which until the new gates were built in 1574 was the southern
entrance to the city. In Roman times this was a residential district
with the Lateran Palace, which the Emperor Constantine gave
together with a Christian basilica to Pope Melchiades to be the
papal see. Despite considerable decadence in the Middle Ages,
the Patriarchate as the basilica and palace complex were called,
was considered to be important and was fought over by the various factions.
The transfer of the the Holy See to the Vatican in 1390, after the
return of the popes from Avignon, accelerated the decay of the
area. Between the 15th and 17th centuries the Patriarchate underwent restoration. The town planning scheme of Sixtus V lead
to the layout of new streets converging on the square, and the
new palace was built by D. Fontana in 1586.
This is one of the four Patriachal basilicas; it was
first dedicated to the Holy
Saviour and then to SS. John the Evangelist and
John the Baptist. The 18th century facade
is adorned with statues of
Christ, St. John and the
Doctors of the Church,
and has five portals. The
central one has the doors of the Roman Senate.
The last door to the right is the Holy Door opened only for the
Jubilee. The plan of the basilica with its five aisles is the original
one although many restorations, including those by Della Porta
and Borromini, have altered the appearance.
Among the numerous works of art in the basilica we can recall
the 14th century frescoed tabernacle above the high altar where only the Pope can celebrate Mass. Admission to the Cloister,
dating to 1521-1523, is through the left nave.
Palazzo del Laterano
Going around the outside we come to the Vatican Museum,
set up in 1987.
The Palace is the headquarters of the Rome Vicariate and has
the privilege of extraterritoriality.
Opposite we can see the remains of the ancient Patriarchate;
the niche with mosaics is all that is left of the dining hall of Leo
II called the Triclinium, and the Chapel of St. Laurence called the
Sancta Sanctorum. The Sancta Sanctorum was built in 1278
to house various relics; other relics connected with the passion
of Christ are conserved in the nearly basilica of S. Croce in Gerusalemme. There are several stairways to reach the chapel on
the first floor; the central stairway, called the Scala Santa, is
climbed by kneeling worshippers on Good Friday.
Piazza San Giovanni
Piazza S. Giovanni has Rome's highest and most ancient obelisk and is the point of convergence for several streets including
Via Merulana, inaugurated in the 1575 Holy Year to connect the
square with the nearby basilica of St. Mary Major, and
Via S. Giovanni called the Via Papalis because it is the route for processions from the Vatican. To the right of the Loggia delle Benedizioni we can see the Baptistery, founded by Constantine.
This building is of great artistic interest and is an archetectural
Along Via dei SS. Quattro we come to a fortified monastery dedicated to four Roman soldiers who suffered martyrdom; for centuries this was an outpost of the Patriarchate. The outside has
a Carolingian tower, and the garden has a cloister dating to 1220,
with admission on request.
The chapel of St. Sylvester with frescoes depicting the Saint's
miracles including the conversion of Constantine healed from the
plague; during the controversies of the Middle Ages they were
considered as evidence of the supremacy of the Pope over the
This is a highly important monument enabling us to see three dif-
ferent stages of Rome's history.
The basilica at street level dates from 1108; underneath is an
earlier 4th century basilica with frescoes on the life of St. Clement. Further below there are ancient Roman buildings including
a temple of Mithra (god of virility), venerated in Rome in the 1st
century A.D., and sixteen catacombs.
Going along Via Celimontana we reach the top of tht Celian hill
above the Colosseum. To the left there is the church of S. Maria in Dominica, one of the city's oldest, famous for its 9th century mosaics. A visit to the Fontana della Navicella and the Villa Celimontana park is relaxing.
A narrow passageway surmounted by an arch marks the begininng of Via di S. Paolo della Croce. The Arch of Dolabella was
built in 10 A.D. and takes its name from the consul who incorporated it into the Servian Walls.
Further on is the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, founded in
the 5th century and rebuilt in the 12th century; at the base of the
bell-tower and in the excavations there are Roman remains, perhaps of the Temple of Claudius. Passing down the street crossed
by seven arches, named after the ancient Roman Clivius Scaurus, we see the church of S. Gregorio Magno. Rebuilt in the
Middle Ages on the site where St. Gregory the Great had converted his father's house into a monastery, the mosaic floor and
ancient columns are all that remain of the earlier church.
We turn right and cross Piazza di Porta Capena, which leads to
the Baths of Caracalla, and then go along Via di Circo
Massimo along the Circus up to Piazza Ugo La Malfa facing the ruins
of the Palatine. The Circus Maximus, used primarily for chariot
racing, was traditionally founded by king Tarquinius Priscus on
the site where the Rape of the Sabines took place. The area underwent continuous transformation between the 4th century B.C.
until the 5th century A.D. when competitions came to an end.
Half a kilometer long, the stadium could seat up to 250,000 spectators.
We go along Via di S. Sabina, past the Parco Sabelli or Orange Garden with a fine view of the city, to Piazza Pietro d'Illiria,
with its fountain adorned by a sculpture by G. Della Porta. The
church was founded in 425 on the site of the house of the Roman matron Sabina and was the first Dominican church, given
to St. Dominic by Honorius III. The cloister and bell-tower date
to that period. The interior, with three aisles and 24 columns taken
from Roman buildings, was decorated with numerous mosaics;
there is a fragment above the 4th century wooden doorway. The
Schola Cantorum and other marble decorations are from the 9th
century. The church of SS. Bonifacio ed Alessio, better known
simply as S. Alessio, was founded in the 5th century, rebuilt in
1217 by Honorius Ill and transformed in 1750. In the crypt there is a column to which St. Sebastian was allegedly bound, and
the relics of Thomas Becket.
Cardinal Rezzonico, commemorated in the inscription, commissioned Piranesi to build the square in 1764-66. It is surrounded
by cypresses and decorated with military and heraldic sculptures. The Priorato del Cavalieri di Malta was founded in 939
as a Benedictine monastery, passing to the Templars in the mid
12th century and to the knights of Malta in the 15th century; St.
Peter's dome can be seen through the keyhole of the gate. There are two churches on the square: the neoclassical S. Maria
del Priorato and the International Benedictine church of S. Anselmo.
Going along Via di S. Anselmo and crossing the gardens of the
Parco della Resistenza we come to the Pyramid and Porta S.
Paolo, in the Testaccio district. The Pyramid was built as the
tomb of Gaius Cestius, who died in 12 B.C.; it is 27 mt. high and
was incorporated into the Aurelian walls. Porta S. Paolo is one
of the eighteen gateways in the Aurelian Walls, built between 270
and 275 A.D. to protect the city from the barbarians. The walls
extend for 19 kilometers and had 381 square towers.
Via Ostiense starts from Piazzale Ostiense and lead to the basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mura; it can be reached by underground
The original basilica, founded at the time of Constantine, was
built on the site considered to be the tomb of St. Paul and was
partially destroyed in a fire in 1823.
The restoration, financed by public donations, took over a cen
tury, and was aimed at providing an accurate reconstruction of
the ancient basilica.