The Via di San Giovanni in Laterano forms the boundary between the Celio and Monti neighborhoods of Rome. The street begins at the Colosseum and ends near the Basilica of St. John of Lateran. Originally it was the first stretch of the Via Papalis, the road a newly elected pope had to walk down to be installed. Since 2007, the first part of the street has officially been pronounced Rome’s “Gay Street.”
Via di San Giovanni in Laterano Rome
History and description
Newly elected popes used to walk from the St. John of Lateran Basilica to St. Peter‘s via a route known as the Via Papalis. Originally, part of the Via Papalis ran steeply uphill from the Colosseum through what is now the Via Santi Quattro. At that time, the street was still called Strada delle Tabernole.
Until the end of the 14th century, the street was also often called Via Santa or Via Papale. The Pope still resided in the Palazzo Lateranense and the only people allowed to live in the street were his relatives and dignitaries. After the pope moved out, Urban VI also granted privileges to other people to live there. The privileges were not just financial. Residents who were insulted in the street even had the right to kill the culprit with impunity.
In 1588 Pope Sixtus V had the trajectory changed so that the street went in a straight line from the Colosseum to St. John of Lateran. To do this, however, part of the Ludus Magnus was demolished. The street was also paved and broadened.
After these interventions, churches and villas were built along the street. The largest and most famous one was the Villa Giustiniani, of which, however, almost nothing remains.
In 1815 the San Giacomo al Colosseo Church was built to create more space around the Colosseum. The hospital next to the church suffered the same fate.
Most of the buildings flanking the street nowadays date from the second half of the 19th century, when part of the Celio district was transformed into a working-class neighborhood.
In 2007, the Via di San Giovanni in Laterano was officially declared Rome’s “gay street.” In reality, it is only a small part of the street (near the Ludus Magnus) that deserves this designation.
It is not noticeable during the day, but especially at night and especially on weekends, the first part of the street is one of the liveliest and most fun parts of the city. The focal point is the bar Coming Out, opened in 2001 in by three lesbian women.
What to see
What remains of the Ludus Magnus is sandwiched between the Via San Giovanni in Laterano and the Via Labicana. Unfortunately, this most famous of gladiatorial schools had to suffer the 16th century building frenzy of Pope Sixtus V.
San Clemente Basilica
The San Clemente Basilica is most famous for the underground part of the church. The basilica was built on top of an older church, which in turn was erected on top of a pagan temple.
Ex-Santa Maria delle Lauretane Church.
The Santa Maria delle Lauretane Church used to be located at n.33. Built in the 18th century, this church and its convent belonged to a hospice erected in the previous century. The latter building was called Ospedale dei Convalescenti (“Hospital of the Convalescent”). From the 19th century, the convent was run by the Congregazione delle Lauretane. After the deconsecration of the church, the building passed into the hands of successively a bank and an office of the tax authorities. The plaque on the wall refers to the priest Angelo Paoli, founder of the church.
Oratorio del Preziosissimo Sangue
The “Oratory of the Most Holy Blood” (Oratorio del Preziosissimo Sangue, n.71) was built in the 19th century as an oratory at a home for poor girls. In 1860 it was converted into a rest home and hospital for elderly nuns. To the simple interior, only the wooden coffered ceiling stands out.
The Casino Fini stands at n. 10. Built in the 17th century, this building originally belonged to a villa. It is difficult to imagine what it must have looked like, since it is now sandwiched between other buildings. A statue in a niche can be seen on the upper left of the facade.
The building at n.39 dates from the 18th century and is characterized by the rococo-style window frames decorated with shells.
Several Madonnellas can also be seen in the street. The first one (a “Madonna and Child”) adorns the corner of Via di San Giovanni in Laterano and Via dei Querceti. The second one (an “Immaculate Conception”) can be seen at n.55. Both date from the 18th century.
Death of a female pope
There is no evidence that the female pope Johanna, who supposedly held the office as Johannes Anglicus, really existed. Born in Mainz, this extraordinarily learned woman with English parents is said to have arrived in Rome disguised as a man. Thanks to her erudition, she was elected pope in the mid-9th century. However, she fell in love with her secretary and, after more than two years as pope, gave birth in 855 during a procession in the Via San Giovanni in Laterano. According to legend, she is supposed to have died on the spot.