One of my favorite things to do in Florence is to stop by Santa Maria Novella. I’m not talking about the church (although that is very beautiful) but Officina Profuma Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, which is right around the corner.
This ancient pharmacy was founded by the monks of Sant Maria Novella and is not only the oldest pharmacy in Europe, it’s also one of the oldest continuous businesses of any kind. Founded in the 14th century by the Domenican monks, they were known for their rose water, which was used as disinfectant against plague. (well, at least it must have smelled nice?)
Today the pharmacy is run as a private business (they rent the space from the monks ) but continue to produce many of the original products that lead to their fame with kings, queens, popes and just about everyone who could afford their cures. And these old fashioned concoctions, which are still being produced, are the things I love to come here to buy. In fact my favorite product hits you as soon as you walk through the ancient wooden doors: their signature fragrance. They have been mixing buds, leaves and flower petals into a heavenly pot pourri for three centuries. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a mixture of spice and flowers and green and…..it’s the smell of Florence to me. And yes, it does smell almost medicinal, but that is also part of its charm, since I’m sure it cures something in my soul.
There are other things that I buy just for the chance to hold something old fashioned in my hands. Things like Lavender Salts and Aromatic Vinegar, both of which are cosmetics of some sort, even though I’m never quite sure what part of my body they go on. Then there are the tinctures like Acqua di Melissa said to aid sleep and Acqua di Santa Maria Novella. The later used to be called Acqua Isterica and was supposed to be especially calming for women. (too bad they had to change the name) (and yes, we got some for both Sophie and Emma).
Although the interiors are appropriately timeless and museum-like, on my most recent visit I discovered one change that I whole-heartedly endorse. They have now opened a lovely Tisaneria, a tea room, where you can not only try one of the many teas and herbal infusions, but also scrumptious cakes and cookies. Domenico and I, having just had a long and heavy lunch, opted instead for small glasses of their famous elixirs. I had Elisir di China and Domenico Elisir Stomatico. You know, to help us digest. It worked. I recommend you do the same.
Officina Profuma Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Via della Scala 16, Florence
Open daily 9am-8pm.
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