The World’s Oldest Pharmacy Is In Italy And It Is Too Gorgeous To Be Called A Pharmacy

Explore centuries-old remedies, fragrances, and botanical treasures amidst ornate halls adorned with frescoes.

by Mallika Khurana
The World’s Oldest Pharmacy Is In Italy And It Is Too Gorgeous To Be Called A Pharmacy

In the heart of Florence, a few steps away from its bustling train station, lies a timeless marvel—the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Its story is a testament to the enduring legacy of herbal medicine, perfumery, and artisanal craftsmanship, dating back to its humble beginnings in 1221 within the walls of the Dominican friars’ convent of Santa Maria Novella. Over time, what began as a garden the friars tended for therapeutic purposes transformed into a haven of wisdom and healing. 

Exploring The Oldest Running Pharmacy

The friars’ knowledge of pharmacopoeia and natural remedies grew over centuries to encompass wellness products, cosmetics, and fragrances. Many of the pharmacy’s products still rely on traditional preparations that are based on the fundamentals of aromatic plants, carrying on the legacy of herbal mastery.

One of the distinguishing features of the pharmacy is its beautiful architecture and historical significance. The building itself is a work of art, showcasing stunning frescoes, ornate decorations, and elegant displays of their products. Visitors can still witness the ancient charm and ambiance of the original pharmacy.

The Enchanting Story Of Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy

What makes this pharmacy unique is its commitment to preserving its heritage while adapting to modern times. Despite its ancient roots, it continues to innovate and evolve, incorporating new technologies and contemporary practices into its production processes.

Entering this storied establishment is like taking a trip back in time. Echoes of a delicate period in Italian history can be heard in the Great Sales Hall. It was once the Chapel of San Niccolò. After restoration work led by Damiano Beni, the chapel was converted into the current sales hall. It features Gothic vaults and paintings by Paolino Sarti that represent the continents.

Herbal Wisdom And Modern Allure At Santa Maria Novella

The Sacristy—also referred to as the Room of Waters—has a history of its own. When it became a storeroom in 1612, it held aqueous products made from distilling herbs and roses. With their beginnings in the 14th century during the Black Plague, the scented waters have historical significance that demonstrates their inventiveness and tenacity. A moving example of adaptability in the face of hardship, Acqua di Rose, Acqua di Fior d’Arancio, and other similar solutions were used not only for personal hygiene but also for sanitization. 

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From Herb Gardens To Fragrant Elixirs

Even after centuries, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella continues to operate. It is a living archive of historical turning points, including the pharmacy’s independent founding in 1612, its secular management in 1542, and Friar Cosimo Bucelli’s visionary spirit in 1774.

Even now, tourists are still drawn to this historic pharmacy. It pushes curiosity to explore a realm where innovation and tradition coexist. The chance to personally witness the development of medicine, perfumery, and craftsmanship is what makes it so alluring.

The Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is still a unique place to go if you are looking for a hint of history, a whiff of period scents, or a window into a bygone era of herbal wisdom.

Where: Via della Scala, 16, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
When: 9:30 am – 8 pm
Cost: Free entry

Cover Image Courtesy: Santa Maria Novella/Website

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