The Vicolo Valdina Complex, a few dozen metres from Montecitorio, has a thousand-year old history. It developed in palaeo-Christian times in the heart of the Field of Mars as a small monastery of Basilian nuns, who had gathered around the oratory of St. Gregory of Nazianzus. It underwent many transformations over the centuries, from the Early Mediaeval nucleus dominated by the Romanesque bell-tower, through the Late Renaissance and Baroque additions, to the Nineteenth century restorations. Today the complex consists of the former Benedictine convent of Santa Maria in Campo Marzio and the attached church dedicated to St. Gregory of Nazianzus.
In 1870, when most of the buildings belonging to the religious orders were taken over by the state, part of the convent was used to store the State Archives. In the Seventies of this century it was purchased by the Chamber of Deputies, which had it extensively restored to its original volume and brought to light the Byzantine school frescoes and decorations. The choice of a site outside Palazzo Montecitorio marked a turning point for the Chamber. By transferring some of its functions to a nearby but not adjoining area, it moved away from the conception of 'palace' to that of 'political city', open, as far as some areas are concerned, also to the general public.
Before its restoration, the complex consisted of a palaeo-Christian church, a Romanesque bell-tower, a fragment of a 13th century chapter room, a 16th century cloister with a fountain attributed to Della Porta in the centre, surrounded on all sides by buildings constructed around the cells of the novitiate and the cloister. The restoration involved replacing the terrace roofing, reconstructing the roof and the sequence of cells. The damaged pavement in the open area was removed and replaced with a lawn that is more in keeping with the presence of the two fig trees, the fountain and the well, thus creating the image of an oasis of silence.
This enhanced the long corridor running along the sides of the cloister, which is delimited by a perspective of octagonal columns. In this area the spaces overhead and the paving have been faithfully reconstructed. Special care was taken over the restoration of the monastery's refectory (Cenacolo), which is characterized by a wide decorated vault, a succession of 18th century frescoes and, at the back, the painting of the Cenacolo dating from the 16th century. The Cenacolo is used as a cultural space, and is open to conferences and events even organised by other entities, like the room of the ancient Sacristy.
The restoration of the Sacristy - the ceiling of which has been rebuilt using wooden beams - revealed the existence of a fragmentary 14th century Crucifixion. The small building dedicated to St. Gregory of Nazianzus occupies the northeast corner of the cloister with its octagonal columns. It represents the earliest part of the monastery and acted as the material and spiritual core for the development of the entire complex. It consists of a small rectangular shaped church 16.3 m long and 7 m wide, with a single nave and apse. According to an unconfirmed tradition it is in this building that the body of St Gregory of Nazianzus was buried after having been brought there by several Basilian nuns who fled from Constantinople in around 750 A.D.
The fine bell-tower dominating the church was probably built in two distinct stages during the 12th century. Inside the church are several precious Byzantine frescoes, including the Redeemer, an image of the Virgin Mary, St Basil and St Peter. The final act with which the building was restored to its pristine role and dignity was the consecration of the new altar, made out of a fine Roman sarcophagus. Inside the altar lie the relics of St Francis of Assisi and Ste Catherine of Siena, the patron saints of Italy, and of Ste Francesca Romana, the patron saint of Rome. Today the Vicolo Valdina complex, which can be accessed either from the Valdina lane or the Campo Marzio square, is used mainly to house MPs' offices. The larger rooms, such as the Cenacolo and the Sacristy, are used for cultural events.Photo album