In This Italian Mountain Town, Everyone Knows About Bitcoin

He’s scribbling a series of 12 words on the blue paper handed to him by one of the two women at the other side of the desk. Marco is his name. Graying hair, blue jeans, and still wearing the fat, black winter coat that protected him against the cold Alpine air outside, he just drove 80 kilometers from his hometown and is now in the process of installing the Atlana Bitcoin wallet, as recommended.

“I had heard of Bitcoin but didn’t own any,” he explains, when asked why he didn’t just buy Bitcoins on an online exchange. “I prefer the human contact if I’m going to purchase some.”

The other of the two women walks him to the white mailbox-sized machine in the corner. “Compro Euro,” it reads, the same words that are plastered across the wall and the window of the small shop. And “Bitcoin ATM.”

The woman explains how the machine works, pointing to the small black window that hides a camera and then to the QR code on Marco’s phone screen. Marco nods and gets out his brown leather wallet.

Buying Bitcoin in Rovereto

As the woman retakes her seat at the desk in front of the bookshelf with copies of Mastering Bitcoin and Antifragile, Marco starts shoving orange 50 euro notes into the Bitcoin ATM. The machine responds with a buzzing and clicking sound for every slip inserted. This goes on for several minutes before Marco puts his wallet and phone back in his jean pockets and walks back to the desk to give a final handshake to both women.

“I’d like to get some of my money out of the bank, and Bitcoin seemed like a good option,” he says, briefly explaining his investment decision before leaving the shop with a thankful smile.

Bitcoin Valley

In the same northern Italian town about four years ago, another Marco, Marco Amadori, was discussing Bitcoin with some fellow local enthusiasts. Working on tech projects for the province of Trento, Amadori pitched them a dream. Schooled as a developer, in his late thirties at the time, Amadori wanted to turn Rovereto — the name of his town — into a “Bitcoin Valley,” with Bitcoin companies, Bitcoin-accepting merchants and, of course, Bitcoin users.

Marco Amadori

Marco Amadori overlooks the town of Rovereto in “Bitcoin Valley.”

Four years later, Amadori and his fellow enthusiasts own and run two Bitcoin businesses in Rovereto, with a nearby education center and a communication company coming up. InBitcoin, Amadori’s first Bitcoin business, is a research and development company, working on various Bitcoin-related software applications, including point-of-sale payment solutions for merchants and the Atlana wallet.

The second, Compro Euro (Italians will understand the pun), is a brick-and-mortar exchange, the first of its kind in Italy. Anyone can walk in to buy or sell up to 3,000 euro worth of Bitcoin, on the spot. The service applies full Know-Your-Customer (KYC) identification and charges a 12 percent markup to boot. Italians in and around Rovereto don’t seem to mind.

“It has calmed down a bit now, but last December was crazy,” says Compro Euro cofounder Alessandro Olivo. “The shop was full, and we had people waiting in line to use the Bitcoin ATM.”

A bit younger than Amadori, Olivo quickly got involved with the Bitcoin Valley project when it was pitched to him. “A second Compro Euro brick-and-mortar exchange is about to open in Pordenone next month, and there are concrete plans for Bologna and Carpi as well. All together we’ve had hundreds of requests from cities across the country. Demand is huge.”

InBitcoin and Compro Euro are now at the heart of Bitcoin Valley — very literally so, in the case of the exchange: it’s situated right in the center of town, where three streets meet. Hard to miss for anyone strolling around the old brick streets of Rovereto.

But they are also at the figurative heart of Bitcoin Valley: InBitcoin and Compro Euro stand out as the flagship enterprises in the town that has come to be known as the Bitcoin capital of Italy. With about 30 Bitcoin-accepting merchants and less than 40 thousand people, it is one of the most Bitcoin-dense cities in the world. (Arnhem, in The Netherlands, is probably still in the lead.)

Pizzeria Da Papi

Amadori, Olivo and other enthusiasts are trying to get a Bitcoin economy going in Rovereto. The InBitcoin and Compro Euro teams get paid in Bitcoin and tend to visit the establishments that accept Bitcoin more than most others. Their restaurant of choice is often Pizzeria Da Papi, owned by Ivan: a tall, slim man with friendly eyes.

 ivan

Ivan is one of a growing number of Rovereto merchants who accept Bitcoin.

Ivan started accepting Bitcoin in early 2017 and has kept most of his coins, he says with a wide smile. The price has gone up significantly. But for Ivan, Bitcoin is not just a new payment method or even just a form of money. Having been introduced with the digital currency (and possibly inspired by a thieving former employee, Olivo suggests), Ivan imagines a world wherein the flow of money…

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