The Perfume-Pharmaceutical workshop of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is a place kept secret by the Florentines. It is not noticeable from the outside, but inside there is a precious heritage that contains the history of Florence. There is no other place in Florence that is so mysterious and unique as this old pharmacy. It is a fascinating place, filled with history from over 800 years ago. It is in fact the oldest pharmacy in Europe. Today there is a small museum inside full of surprises, and also a shop where you can buy perfumes and creams made in Florence according to a historical method.
Walking accompanied by a guide in these rooms that have remained intact from the glorious era of the Renaissance, you can imagine how a pharmacy worked at the time. This historic pharmacy, which later became a perfumery, was frequented by Catherine de 'Medici and her family.
Inside, traces of this past can be seen in the neo-Gothic architecture. The low ceiling vaults are fascinating and mysterious, and constitute a true architectural treasure. There is also a beautiful fresco that dates back to the fifteenth century and is attributed to Mariotto di Nardo di Cione, who belonged to the school of Giotto, a Florentine master of painting who worked in the most famous cities in Italy.
The ground floor of this building is none other than the oldest pharmacy in Europe and also in the world still in use.
It was founded in 1221, when the Dominican friars settled in the convent of Santa Maria Novella. They bought a parcel for a church outside the walls of Florence. They, other than devoting themselves to religious life, cultivated plants, especially herbs, in a garden of the cloister in the heart of the convent. They developed a savoir-faire related to the pharmacy that would become important to the community through the centuries. This experience was acquired thanks to the monks' knowledge of herbs, noting their properties to create natural preparations.
Inside, what is the magnificent hall of the museum, was the sacristy of the chapel of San Niccolo '. You can see the traces of its past from the magnificent frescoes of the 400 on the walls that represent a religious scene: The Passion of the Christ. In this room, since 1612, the waters for perfumes were kept, and that is why it takes the name of Room of the Waters. It is interesting to think that the waters were stored in glass ampoules or copper containers, and then when customers came to buy them, they poured them into their jugs. This custom continued until the 19th century.
The evidence of the production of scented waters dates back to 1381 in an era where the black pest that devastated the population of Florence was present. For this reason, the friars used rose water to sanitize rooms, but also to treat people, in the form of a pill or mixing it with wine.
In 1513, Caterina de 'Medici collaborated with the monks' workshop to create her own perfume. As you can imagine from her status as a future queen, she had a personal perfumer. She had this personalized essence produced on the occasion of her marriage to King Francis I. This fragrance is called Acqua della Regina, and is the most prestigious of the workshop still on sale today according to the same recipe.
From 1612 the workshop took its current name "Foundry of His Royal Highness" and opened to the Florentine public. We can understand that the friars did not have the role of merchants, from their vow of humility.
The fame of their products was not limited only to the Florentine territory, but also extended to China and India where they were imported.
Today this place is a Perfumery-Workshop, but the products are produced in compliance with traditional methods in order to obtain a quality result. In 1866, following the unification of Italy, the assets of the Church were confiscated and the workshop was given to the Municipality which took care of conserving the building and renovating it.
So why not be accompanied by our expert guides who will lead you to this unique place explaining every detail? You can take the opportunity to take beautiful photos worthy of Instagram because in addition to being an important building, the aestheticism of the decorations is sumptuous.
Link to book the experience: https://www.madeoftuscany.it/church-santa-maria-novella/