Note: This post was previously published here as a part of my freelance work.
On a recent trip to Italy, I visited the world mecca for holistic beauty. Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is the oldest known pharmacy still in operation today. But don’t be fooled when I say, “pharmacy.” This place is so much more than your average CVS or Walgreens. I was so struck and amazed by the institution, that I wanted to share a peek inside its walls. If you ever find yourself in Florence, please, pay the site a visit.
The pharmacy originally belonged to the convent, Santa Maria Novella, which may sound familiar as the name of Florence’s main church located in the city center. Record of an infirmary first appeared in 1284, but it wasn’t until 1609 that we can prove the convent had a friar herbalist. In 1612 the pharmaceutical workshop opened to the public, and in 1667 the pharmacy became famous beyond the city’s borders. The convent’s monks were growing herbs, making distillations, and creating ancient remedies within the renowned apothecary. Because modern medicine did not yet exist, herbs and natural remedies were still being used to cure diseases and to care for the body. The pharmacy was also a sort of social destination where guests would come to be entertained and treated to delicacies.
In 1871 Cesare Augusto Stefani became tenant of the city, and owner of the property. It was at this time that the pharmacy left control of the convent, and moved into the modern day. The current private management’s objective is to combine the lessons of the past with the needs of the present. They work very hard to continue selling remedies originally invented at the pharmacy and to continue herbal traditions. The space itself is well-preserved; arched ceilings, striking frescoes, marble floors, and small courtyards make wandering it’s maze an entertaining fete.
Today the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella sells everything from ancient preparations, extracts, and essences, to cosmetics, liquors, and fragrances. Products like Acqua di Santa Maria Novella are particularly interesting. The specialty water was developed in 1614 by friar Angiolo Marchissi as an “anti-hysterics” remedy. You dilute one teaspoon in water and drink in small sips to help with anxiety or to soothe digestion.
Herbal-based beauty products honor traditions past that are again becoming popular today. Intriguing hair rinses in scents like lemon verbena claim to add shine, and they sell cleansing body oils to use in place of skin-drying soap. The smells are all so delicate and alive. It’s like rereading your favorite old-world novel where women would take bathes with rose and orange blossom, pampering their skin with oils and patchouli. Here, you can also have them blend essences to create your very own custom fragrance.
Myself, I walked away with Acqua di Fior D’Arancio, a face toner with the most beautiful and relaxing of smells, and Aloe Gel Viso Corpo to help sooth razor burn and after sun skin. Next time I go back, I think I’ll need to get a little more adventurous with my purchases.
What product do you think you would want to try?