Banco República’s main branch is located in Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (Old City) at the corner of Zabala and Cerritos. The building was originally constructed as the National Bank, which started in 1887 and went bankrupt three years later in 1890 as the result of an untimely recession.
Banco República was started for the specific purpose of helping the Uruguayan economy get out of the recession by financing new energy related businesses and providing rural credit. The bank was funded with 5 million gold pesos borrowed from England.
Banco República main branch exterior at night
Banco República quickly grew to have a branch in all of Uruguay’s 19 Departments, enabling people in rural areas to have access to credit. Today Banco República is the largest and strongest bank in Uruguay with branches in almost every community.
Banco República main branch main hallI was fortunate enough to have a local guide arrange a private tour through the main branch building a few years ago.
The building is amazing. The exterior is adorned with columns and bigger than life statues. The vast interior has huge marble pillars, grand arches, and meandering stairways.
Just a few days before my tour of the Banco República building I happened to have read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and was intrigued to learn that all of Banco República’s presidents (from the very beginning) were Masons. A bank representative showed me the original board room, where a large wood meeting desk remained.
In front of where each board member sat, was a built-in depository, with interior channels that went around the desk (like a pool table) to where the president sat. When a vote was taken each board member would either insert a small white ball for a “yes” vote or a black ball for a “no” vote. The president would take out the balls and line them up on the top of the desk to show the results of the vote.
The combination of the antiquity, grandeur, and intrigue made the tour a special experience for me. I was not allowed to take pictures inside the building, but the bank representative was kind enough to provide me with a disc of images and permission to share them.
Images provided by Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay