By MJ, Editor and ELE Travel Writer
On a typical Florentine street with an unassuming entrance lies the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, widely thought of as the oldest pharmacy in the world.
Founded in 1221 by Dominican Monks who started to grow herbs to make their own medicines and balms to use in the monastery’s infirmary, their products soon became renowned throughout Florence for their quality and healing properties. The Monks first began selling the products to the public in 1612 when they opened the doors of the apothecary to the public.
The pharmacy, which is housed in a beautiful old building, still produces handmade products using the original recipes developed by the Monks centuries ago.
Whether you plan to shop or not, a visit to Santa Maria Novella is worthwhile to see the stunning building, the ornate roof and smell the beautiful perfumes, soaps and products. There is also a museum to explore and a tea room to enjoy. Staff are well versed in the apothecary’s history and are willing to share their knowledge with visitors.
The products are stunning; candles, floral waters, perfume, soaps and face creams are just some of the beautiful offerings. One of our favourite products, the aromatic Rose Water, was first produced and sold by the Monks in 1381 and is still as beautiful today.
Their perfumes and fragrances are exquisite, one in particular was first created for Catherine de Medici when she became the Queen of France in the 16th century called ‘Eau de la Reine’. The fragrance is still produced today under the name ‘Acqua di S.M Novella’ and is a bestseller. We also love the scented candles which make gorgeous gifts to take home.
Shopping at the Florence store is a beautiful experience, products are displayed in a series of different rooms and you are given a card as you move from counter to counter to add on the products you wish to purchase. At the back of the store you present the card to the staff who will retrieve and package your products.
If you don’t plan on visiting Florence any time soon Santa Maria Novella now has 75 shops throughout the world and an online store where you can purchase their full range, however nothing compares to a visit to the original apothecary to experience the atmosphere and history.
Note that the entrance at Via della Scala, 16, is easy to miss, the only noticeable signage being on the ground so make sure you have your eyes peeled (or google maps on hand!).