Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena – Siena, Italy - Atlas Obscura

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Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena

First founded in 1472, this is the oldest bank in the world. Its history may explain why we call financial institutions "banks." 

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The oldest still existing bank in the world can be found in Siena, Italy. But its days may be numbered due to financial problems.

The bank traces its history back to 1472, when it was founded as a monte di pietà (mount of piety), an early form of organized charity that was intended as an alternative to moneylenders. After a reform in 1624, the bank came to its current name: Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. This bank is considered one of the earliest examples of modern retail banking.

Banking in Italy, especially in Tuscany, existed long before that. During the Middle Ages, merchants in Italy already borrowed and lent money. Those deals took place on a bench. A bench in Italian, depending on which region, was called banco or banca. The word spread through the world, and in many languages, some variation of the word is still used today to refer to financial institutions.

The headquarters of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena are still located in their original building, the Palazzo Salimbeni on Piazza Salimbeni in Siena, Italy. Inside, the bank hosts a collection of art and historical documents that have been accumulated over the last 500 years. (Unfortunately, most of this collection is not publicly accessible.) At the top of the building on the right side of the piazza, busts of figures that are important to Italy and Tuscany, including Michelangelo, look down from sculptured medallions.

The days of the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena might be numbered. Like many institutions, the bank struggled during the global financial crisis that started in 2008. When talks about selling the bank to another big Italian bank started again in the of summer 2021, the people of Siena were outraged at the news. That outcry might just save the bank, which is partly owned by the Italian government, but its future remains uncertain.

Know Before You Go

You can visit the piazza at all times. If you would like to enter the building you need to do that during opening hours.

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