A country’s currency can speak volumes about what its people value. In the years prior to the euro, for instance, France chose Nobel Prize physicist and chemist Marie Curie, a pioneer in the medical field, for its 500 franc note, while Greece chose Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, arts and justice, for its 5,000 drachma note.

“It’s obvious that most countries are going to put people who are seen as national heroes on their money,” said Raewyn Passmore, assistant curator of the Currency Museum in Ottawa, Canada. “But nations will also use featured designs that are positive advertisements for their countries.” The Currency Museum offers insight into the history of money and its usage throughout the world through extensive collections of both Canadian and foreign currencies. Ironically, the museum is free to the public.

Fascinated by the ways in which money represents different cultures, we put together a slide show of a few different currencies. Each shows a different face of a nation. These images are courtesy of Audrius Tomonis, dealer at the world banknote collection website, www.banknotes.com.

Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.