Connecting Past and Present at a Historic Pharmacy

The Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy is a place I had heard much about but had not visited on previous trips to Florence. I put it near the top of my wish-list when I returned to Florence last year, and it exceeded my expectations, not just because of its magnificent interior, but also because of its historical significance. Plus, my grandfather and great-grandfather were pharmacists, but their idea of “pharmacy” was much different from this historic pharmacy in Florence.

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This “pharmaceutical workshop” was established around the year 1221 by Domenican monks of the neighboring Santa Maria Novella church. At that time, the pharmacy specialized in medicinal herbs and medications. Later it began producing perfumes, including “acqua della regina,” a perfume essence made just for Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France.

Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, Italy

The pharmacy was opened to the public in 1612 and since then has served the Florentine population (and now global customers) by selling medicinal herbs, remedies, body and face creams, and perfumes.

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The pharmacy is now a luxurious shop and “museum of tradition.” While it is no longer run by the Domenican monks, many of the same recipes and natural ingredients (and no animal testing) are used to produce high-quality items. The pharmacy is part of Florence’s strong bespoke heritage, which honors the careful and traditional production of goods of the highest quality.

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You can find the officina by walking down the street that runs along the left side of Piazza Santa Maria Novella (left if you are facing the church). It’s located at Via della Scala, 16, on the right side of the street.

Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, Italy

First, you walk down a beautiful hallway before turning to enter the pharmacy shop and museum. The first room is called the Sales Room. Here you can pick up an informational pamphlet and ask staff about the products.

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Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, Italy

All the rooms have been beautifully restored and are decorated with ornate ceilings, chandeliers, and historic artifacts.

Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, Italy

Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, Italy

Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, Italy

Santa Maria Novella historical pharmacy in Florence, Italy

The officina is free and open every day 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Visitors are welcome just to look around and ask questions; there is no obligation to buy, but trust me, it’s hard to resist if the sales assistant starts letting you sample products and explains the history behind them. The pharmacy is within easy walking distance of the train station and the Palazzo Vecchio area and is right behind the Santa Maria Novella church, which is also worth a stop. You can read more about this historical pharmacy in my article for Travel Mindset, and visit the officina‘s official website here.

And you? Have you visited a historical pharmacy before? What luxurious or historical shops have you visited around the world?

Click here for much more about Florence, my favorite city.

25 Comments

  • sue says:

    Wow. It really looks beautiful. Italy is known for its grand buildings of arts and architecture. This one is just one of them. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  • Carol says:

    Yes, I’ve been there! I bought toothpaste, which is a weird kind of addiction for me. I collect toothpaste. I just bought three new kinds yesterday in Montreal, one from Italy! However, when I was in the Santa Maria Novella it was so dark I could hardly see, which it doesn’t look like in your photos. Maybe they had the lights off for a reason that day?

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for sharing, Carol! Hmm, interesting about the light. I have no idea. It was not at all dark in there, and there was plenty of natural light coming in the rooms, too. In fact, I didn’t use some photos because there was strong natural light coming from the windows that was too distracting to the image.

  • I can’t believe I missed this gorgeous pharmacy on my many stays in Florence! Most in italy are much less interesting! I do love the pharmacies in France most, when we visited, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to pick up the evian spritz can French women use on their face. That was many yrs ago, so not sure if it is still sold… But I imagine the french pharmacies still hold amany of the secrets of French beauty.

    • Jenna says:

      I want to visit the French pharmacies now that you’ve told me about them. And about this one…it will have to be on your list for next time! I was lucky because there weren’t many people when I visited and the sales assistant was very friendly.

  • Oops, mistyped my web site!

  • Andi says:

    What an insanely gorgeous and interesting place!

  • Renuka says:

    I am sure to visit this pharmacy whenever I visit Florence! Thanks for sharing such an unique post!

  • I was so happy to discover this place a few years ago. I’ve been telling everybody who is planning on going to Florence about it. With the exterior being so ordinary, it’s easy to miss. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • One of those places that you will walk right past if you don’t know it’s there. My daughter loves the rose water, their original product. A wonderful place for buying a gift.

    • Jenna says:

      I tried that rose water when I was there. It and the other products from old recipes are so interesting–a different fragrance from what has become popular in recent years, I think.

  • Very cool! Interesting how monks started the pharmacy – monks seem to be behind all things good from beer & wine to pharmaceuticals.

    Love the architecture too – I could spend hours shopping here.

    Murissa

  • Kate says:

    This is one of my favorite posts of your’s 🙂

  • lola says:

    So interesting. I wish I had known about this place when I was visiting Florence in November. It looks fantastic!! Amazing photos.

    • Jenna says:

      I think you would really like it since you like all things luxurious. Put it on your list for next time!

  • jill says:

    A really, really cool place. Sharing this with the in-laws who goes to Italy every year. It sounds like a place they’d enjoy.

  • Davide says:

    I have been to Florence a few times but never visited this place…a good reason to go back!

  • Wow–that’s a ‘highly decorated’ pharmacy! I love poking around pharmacies in Italy; even the smallest, and most modern, ones always have a stash of intriguing botanical products. Terrific photos, Jenna.

  • Diana says:

    Hi Jenna! I love your blog (I found it from “girl in florence”). This post is wonderful. I go nuts for unlikely places that are insanely beautiful (libraries, metro stations, cafes and…well…even cemeteries!). Anyway….love pics!

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Diana,
      Thanks for stopping by! I am off to check out your site now. And yes, there are plenty of unlikely places with insanely beautiful interiors in Italy, aren’t there?

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