Celebrating their 400th anniversary this year, the pharmacy at Santa Maria Novella church in Florence is clearly something special.
The first thing you notice when entering is the heavenly scent. Since they made their first perfume for Catherine de Medici in 1533, this place has become world famous for their perfumery.
The next thing that hits you is how beautiful the building itself is. Many people go just to see this historic place dating from the 13th century with its ceiling frescoes, gold inlaid walls, and antique bronzes. Most people end up staying longer than intended, mesmerized by the lotions, teas, soaps, potpourri and tonics. All the ingredients are natural, without the chemical additives so prevalent these days. And it is not all just pampering and nice scents – this is a working pharmacy where you can find medications to treat health issues and such necessities as chemical-free toothpaste.
The pharmacy was founded by Dominican friars around 1221 using the medicinal herbs they found when they arrived in Florence and those they planted themselves to make medications and balms for their own needs. By 1612 their medicines had become so famous that they decided to open to the public, thus this pharmacy was born.
In the 19th century the then Italian government seized the churches’ assets and the pharmacy became a state-run business. Later it was ceded back to the descendents of the last director of the monastery and today it is a private company run by this family, the Stefani.
As well as the shop – and you can buy their products online around the world – there is the museum which is in the Old Laboratories. This shows much of the history of making the perfumes and medicinal products they are so famous for.
The Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy (Offcina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella) is located just around the corner from the Santa Maria Novella Church, at 16 Via della Scala. Unsurprisingly given the station’s name, this is not far from the main train station in Florence: Firenze Santa Maria Novella.