The Antica Erboristeria di Santa Maria Novella is the oldest pharmacy of all Europe, a place where everything seems to have stopped and where nothing has changed over the centuries. It has been active for over 4 centuries and it is one of the oldest commercial establishments ever.
Antica Erboristeria di Santa Maria Novella, where it is and how to reach it
The perfume-pharmaceutical workshop of Santa Maria Novella is in Via della Scala 16, in Florence, inside the convent complex of Santa Maria Novella.
It can be easily reached from the Florence Santa Maria Novella railway station, just over a kilometre away. We just need to walk through Piazza della Stazione, Piazza dell’Unità Italiana, Via Panzani, Piazza San Giovanni, Piazza del Duomo, Via del Proconsolo, Via Ghibellina.
Antica Erboristeria di Santa Maria Novella in Florence
The Antica Erboristeria has been active for over 4 centuries. Today it is a perfumery and herbalist’s shop set inside a monumental environment, with antique furnishings and decorations dating back to different eras.
Here, essences and perfumes made using the original recipes of the monks and following the ancient methods of preparation, are sold.
A semicircular stone portal gives us access to the sales room. The atrium is in a classical style and it has two exedras on the sides, each with a marble statue, Idea and Galen, who represent the personification of the health goddess and the medicine god.
The sale room is dedicated to San Niccolò di Bari and it was originally one of the convent chapels. The frescoes that characterize it represent the four continents, symbolizing the fame of the Pharmacy in the world.
The furnishings are in neo-Gothic style, with walnut cabinets where the products of the workshop are displayed.
But how is the Antica Erboristeria formed?
What are the environments that compose it?
Let’s discover them all:
- Sala Verde: overlooking the garden, it was built between 1335 and 1337, between the convent infirmary and the chapel, in order to obtain a private apartment. From 1542, with the beginning of the commercial activity, the pharmacy houses the pyramid stoves for distillation, the stoves and the glasses. In the 18th century it became a reception room for wealthy guests. Today, it is furnished with 18th century directory style furniture and it features portraits of the all Workshop directors from 1612 until today;
- Sala dell’Antica Spezieria: this is the room reserved for sales in the period from 1612 to 1848. It was accessed from the Great Cloister of Santa Maria Novella. The rooms have a vaulted ceiling with a rich stucco decoration with fantastic animals, sphinxes, golden eagles, masks, festoons, dragons. In the wardrobe located on the entrance wall, in the centre of the carving, we find a garland of roses in gilded wood;
- Sacristy: since the 17th century it was used as an flavouring, where the distilled waters were kept. The walls are frescoed with stories of Christ’s passion by Mariotto di Nardo. In 2012 there was a complete restoration of the entire rooms. A work completed over the last few years and which has made it possible to completely free the vault from 19th century painting, bringing it back to the original painting by Mariotto di Nardo;
- The Museum: the itinerary unfolds in what were once the production laboratories. Here we can admire the ancient machines used for manufacturing, glasses, ancient ceramics, copper and bronze objects;
- The other environments: the Antica Erboristeria is completed by the herbal tea shop, the ancient distillery, the large cellars where the products were stored.
The history of the Antica Erboristeria di Santa Maria Novella
The perfumery, as we know it today, dates back to 1612, a period during which the activity was mostly that of an apothecary.
But already in 1381, the Dominican friars of Santa Maria Novella were selling rose water as a disinfectant, cultivating medicinal plants, distilling herbs and flowers, preparing essences, elixirs, ointments, balms.
In 1659, the business received the title of Foundry of His Royal Highness from Ferdinando II de’ Medici.
In the 18th century, the products made were also exported to the Indies and China.
During the 19th century suppression of the convent, it remained active thanks to Fra’ Damiano Beni. In 1866 it became municipal property and it was leased by Cesare Augusto Stefani, whose descendants still manage it today.
Antica Erboristeria di Santa Maria Novella, characteristics and curiosities
Inside the Antica Erboristeria we can admire numerous scientific instruments and containers dating back to the period from the 17th to the 20th century.
The collection includes ceramic apothecary jars, apothecary glasses (bottles, stills and more), scientific instruments such as thermometers, mortars, scales, measuring cups.
In the showcases of the Sala dell’Antica Spezieria, alembics and tools used to extract and synthesize perfumes and medicinal compounds are displayed. Tall thermometers are copies. The originals are kept in the Museo Galileo in Florence.
Several essences and perfumes are still made with formulas studied during the Renaissance for Caterina de’ Medici.
Among the historical products we find the Cologne water, in homage to the German city, the Aromatic Vinegar or of the “Seven Thieves” (CVII century), the Water of Santa Maria Novella (1614), Alkermes, a Medici liqueur and Edinburgh Elixir.
Among the most popular products in the world it stands out the perfume created exclusively for the Queen of England Elizabeth II on the occasion of her 50th birthday.
The products of the Antica Erboristeria di Santa Maria Novella are carried out in a factory in Via Reginaldo Giuliani.
The sale takes place only in the Via della Scala complex.