The International Balzan Prize Foundation awards four annual monetary prizes to people or organisations who have made outstanding achievements in the fields of humanities, natural sciences, culture, as well as for endeavours for peace and the brotherhood of man.
Each year the foundation chooses the fields eligible for the next year’s prizes, and determines the prize amount. These are generally announced in May, with the winners announced the September the following year. Since 2001 the prize money has increased to 1 million Swiss Francs per prize, on condition that half the money is used for projects involving young researchers.
The Balzan Prize committee comprises twenty members of the prestigious learned societies of Europe. The Prize ranks close to the Nobel Prize and is one of the highest awards for science, culture and humanitarian achievement, but is less well known, despite Balzan’s prize money for 2004 of 3 million US dollars exceeding Nobel’s of 1.3 million (at 2004 exchange rates).
The assets behind the foundation were established by the Italian Eugenio Balzan(1874-1953), a part-owner of Corriere della Sera who had invested his assets in Switzerland and in 1933 had left Italy in protest against fascism. He left a substantial inheritance to his daughter Angela Lina Balzan (1892-1956), who at the time was suffering an incurable disease. Before her death, she left instructions for the foundation and since then it has two headquarters, the Prize administered from Milan, the Fund from Zurich.
The first award was in fact 1 million Swiss Francs to the Nobel foundation in 1961. After 1962 a gap of 16 years followed when prizes recommenced with an award of half a million Swiss Francs to Mother Teresa. Award ceremonies alternate between Bern and the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, and frequently winners have later won a Nobel Prize.
Four prizes have been awarded annually since 1978 for achievements in the categories:
Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts
Physics, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Medicine
Every 3 to 5 years the foundation also awards the Prize for humanity, peace and brotherhood among peoples. It has last been awarded in 2005 to the Community of Sant’Egidio
Other noted recipients are Pope John XXIII (1962), Paul Hindemith (1962), Jean Piaget (1979), Jorge Luis Borges (1980), Jan Hendrik Oort (1984), Emmanuel Levinas (1989), Paul Ricoeur (1999), and Eric Hobsbawm (2003)
All awards are decided by a single committee.