Yesterday May 11th , 2012 in Florence, at 16 Via della Scala, one of the world’s old pharmacies the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella celebrated its 400th anniversary. Its historical rooms have been renovated according to a new technological approach. Let’s get into the magic world of aromatic flower fragrances and essential oils. The nose is captured by the wafting smells pervading the place, while the wooden cabinets with the old containers and the monks’ original recipe ledgers tell about the infirmary set here by the Dominicans in the first half of the 13th century. Santa Maria Novella, originally called Santa Maria delle Vigne, was enlarged into a monastery where the monks developed herbal remedies from their vegetable garden, the so called “Giardino dei Semplici from the latin medicina simplex defining herbs.
Rose water was employed as an antiseptic to clean houses from plague infections. Still produced today, it has been turned into a perfume or a product for aromatherapy, now lined up together with contemporary skin care products, soaps scents on the shelves of the dimly light frescoed rooms. The same destiny
for the “ Vinegar of the Seven Thieves” a remedy for fainting fits or a mixture for hysterical women changed now into a Santa Maria Novella Water, special for its antispasmodic properties. The activity of the monks has been marked by the historical events, the apothecary survived the bonfire of vanities of Savonarola, a Dominican monk himself, because of its mostly medicinal character. The great fortune of the Officina was the patronage of its most famous customer Catherine de’ Medici, queen of France. A new fragrance was created for her, a perfume that became known as acqua della regina or “water of the queen”.
Later it underwent changing fortunes because the business seemed to be in contrast with religious piety. After a temporary shutdown the production was resumed until the state confiscation in 1866 and a consequent decisive control by laymen whose descendants still run it today.
A real business. In the 19th century, the products became all the rage in the United States and its top selling liqueur, Alkermes, was advertised as a way to “revive weary and lazy spirits”.
Today the pharmacy still keeps entirely its historical charm. The neo-gothic blue and gold hall , the well preserved rich decoration of the Green Room, the Old Apothecary shelves and cabinets under a frescoed ceiling, the actual sale room, a former chapel dedicated to San Niccolò , not to mention it adjacent sacristy frescoed, according to some, by Mariotto di Nardo enchant the visitors-customers.
An echo of this flagstore reaches as well the international stores in New York , Los Angeles and Tokio in the preserved tecniques of manufacturing, many of the products are still handmade and when you wash yourself with one of its soap bar you can really perceive the smell of the City of Lilies and imagine the long story of a craft which has safely crossed many centuries.
A must you can’t miss. Profit from the holiday accommodations offered by Tuscany Holiday Rent.