While the Lateran Palace was the seat of the popes (from the 4th century until the temporary transfer of the papal capital to Avignon in 1309), the Lateran was the center of the Catholic Church. After the return of the popes to Rome in 1377, the official residence of the popes was moved to the Vatican, but the Lateran remained an important center of the church - popes were crowned here until 1870.
At the heart of the Lateran there is Piazza di San Giovanni, where the Lateran Palace stands. The original papal residence, built in the 4th century, was severely damaged in a fire and fell into ruins. In 1586, Pope Sixtus V commissioned Domenico Fontana to build a new palace as a summer papal residence. It was never used for this purpose thereafter. Fontana's Baroque palace now houses the offices of the Diocese of Rome (of which the pope is bishop). It was also the site of the historic meeting that led to the signing of the Lateran Treaties in 1929, which established the boundaries of the Vatican and settled relations with the Italian state.
The Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran is also known as the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John in Lateran, Saint John Lateran, or the Lateran Basilica. It is the oldest and highest ranking of the four major papal basilicas as well as one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, holding the unique title of "archbasilica". Founded in 324 by Constantine the Great, it is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, and the oldest basilica of the Western world.
The Cloister is a masterpiece of Cosmatesque art - the place where are preserved architectural elements, sculptures and ornaments of the ancient basilica. It was created by Pietro Vassalletto, a member of the famous family of Roman marble workers, also the authors of the one in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls.