A sad day in Siena…

Above: Ricciarelli from Nannini in Siena. I took these photos in October while visiting a good friend there.

From Frank Bruni’s editorial today on Berlusconi’s “post-script” to the report in the Wall Street Journal that the Monte dei Paschi Foundation might lose control of the historic bank — the “world’s oldest bank” — the news from Italy is depressing these days.


It’s hard for me to write about Italian wine these days when people I know and care about are being affected directly by the economic crisis in Europe.

A good friend from Siena writes:

    [Monte dei Paschi] is the oldest bank in the world (founded in 1472). It is the third largest bank in Italy and it has represented everything for Siena since the beginning. It is the financial lung of the city and of the province. It used to distribute Euro 250 million ($400 million) every year to everybody who asked for restoration of the bathrooms of the contradas in Siena, or for a new soccer field, or for a book illustrating the old gates of Siena, or to make a show, or to go to a wine fair. Directly or indirectly MPS [Monte dei Paschi di Siena] has been the Babbo Monte [“Daddy Monte”] exactly like a generous dad [see this WSJ profile and report on the crisis]. Now MPS is in big crisis like anyone else in Italy but with a bigger aftermath than any other. On the stock exchange, MPS lost from the beginning of the this year 88% of the value dropping from 3,00 euros to 0,29 euros for share. So this is a problem. A big problem. A huge problem for Siena.


“Maybe it is finally the time to consider tourism the first industry of Siena,” writes my friend, “and start again from this point.”

If you’ve ever been to Siena, you know that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also a cultural hub of Western Civilization, a city whose contribution to Italy’s national history is rivaled only by its intellectual and aesthetic treasure.

The Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank is just up the street from the Nannini pastry shop.

I’m no fan of bankers but it’s sad to think of what Siena would be like without Monte dei Paschi, an institution that has helped to protect and cultivate the city’s works of art for more than 500 years.

Some of Italy’s greatest wines are raised within a forty-minute radius of Siena — Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano…

Our Italian friends are in our thoughts these days…

4 thoughts on “A sad day in Siena…

  1. I think it’s useful to mention that Monte dei Paschi started in C15 as a charity foundation. The main purpose was to offer affordable credit to those in need. It was funded by voluntary donations from the wealthy. What a difference to the world of today!
    There’s a vague similarity to the microloan movement in countries such as Bangladesh today. Of course Monte dei Paschi is, on one hand, just a normal bank, but on the other, like you mentioned Jeremy, it operates a large number of charity and cultural activities that set it apart from a normal bank. Sad sory indeed.

  2. We can only get to Renaissance if the journey is passing through the Middle Ages. Siena has been always “mentally & economically lazy” just because of this yearly golden shower of money free-given by Babbo Monte. Ok… now let’s grow up, let’s get a real job and stop asking daddy for money!
    It’s necessary to make a crisis into an opportunity!

  3. I have a photo taken in 1988 (my first visit to Siena) of myself and my younger brother standing in front of Nannini’s window, inside which sits a giant recreation of the Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia. At the time the Nannini kids, Gianna and Alessandro, were two of Italy’s rising stars, in the fields of pop music and Formula 1 respectively. Sadly, Alessandro’s career was ended when he lost an arm in a helicopter crash. I’m digressing. As a devout “fiorentino” I tend to restrain myself when waxing poetic about Siena, but there is no doubt that stepping into the Campo for the first time (from the correct strategic entrance of course) is an unforgettable experience.

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