I read H.V. Morton's A Traveller In Rome last year. (Out of print, so look for it on AbeBooks.com) This book is a delight to read before a trip or while you’re visiting Rome. Published in 1957, Morton effortlessly weaves his way back and forth through layers of history, and I was impelled through it as though I had no choice in the matter! By way of demonstration, here’s just a snippet that explains the name of the Basilica of St. John Lateran ...
"The gay young men of imperial Rome drove fast chariots, cultivated low companions, kept late hours, drank too much, and sometimes became amateur gladiators. Plautius Lateranus, the notorious play-boy, (was) evidently one of those big, good-natured men who never meet trouble half-way, but who go out and bring it home with them. (...) He agreed to be the one who was to hold Nero down while others slipped their daggers into him. A plot is in danger of discovery in
direct proportion to the number of people in it, and this one contained so many conspirators that it was doomed to discovery (…) Like so many men of his type, he absolved his follies by a courageous death. (…)
The Lateranus property eventually became part of the dowry of Fausta, the wife of Constantine the Great, and as soon as Constantine had given freedom to the Church, he made a gift of the Lateran Palace to the Pope. He thus ensured one of Fate’s most unlikely associations: that the name of one of Messalina’s lovers and that of St. John the Baptist should go down the ages together as St. John in
Lateran, the Mother church of Christendom."