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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy

I've taken to wandering the city. Finding NEW piazzas has become difficult but I always seems to discover some small, unknown alleyway. And they're always the most beautiful spaces imaginable. Escaping the hustle of traffic and reveling in the subtle tones of shadow within shadow, I feel so at peace in these narrow forgotten streets.

Though the piazzas are, of course, wonderful places. Particularly to glean little gems of knowledge! Wandering through the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, I happened to hear an Italian tour guide suggesting to her group of American bicyclists, that one of the oldest known pharmacies was just around the corner. Without a moments hesitation, I changed course, following the direction of her furiously shaking hand. After only a couple minutes walk I stumbled into one of the most beautiful buildings I been in in Florence.

The Santa Maria Novela Pharmacy, also known as the Officina Profumo-Framaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It was originally founded by friars in 1221 and was the source of medications, balms and pomades for all the monks infirmaries. News of their quality products became famous and the pharmacy eventually opened to the public. By the 18th century their fame had spread to Russia, the Indies and even China.

The pharmacy is still in operation and focuses exclusively on herbalist art, basing all its preparations on traditional herbs and oils of natural origin. The vast majority of the medicinal herbs are grown locally on the hills around Florence.

The Historic Sales room is replete with painted, vaulted ceilings,
and is where the company's customers were welcomed.

      In 1848, as the Pharmacy's fame grew, the Sales room was restructured 
to entertain and accommodate all their new the customers.

The Perfume Room's walls are lined with the portraits and urns of the 
friars & Stephani family running the Pharmacy for the last 4 generations.

The Herbologist room or old Apothocary shop has a view out into the herb garden and hundreds of multicolored decanteurs and bottled elixers beautifully displayed in walnut cabinets. 

Delicate frescoes cover all four walls and ceiling of the Old Library. There is an extensive collection of antique texts (some 800 year old recipes!) now housed in the Sacristy and the Old Laboratory has many machines and mortars, precious glassware and metal utensils that were used in the distillation and production process. What an unbelievable wealth of knowledge.

I left the museum simply beaming. So unexpected! And an incredible reminder of what treasures can be found if only you keep your eyes and ears open and act spontaneously.

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