800 Years of heritage
It was 1221 when Dominican friars came to Florence to found a new convent. Much has happened since then, but Santa Maria Novella is still going strong, making the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella the most ancient apothecary in the world.
San Niccolò chapel
Between 1332 and 1334, the merchant Dardano Acciaioli became ill and was treated by the Dominican friars of Santa Maria Novella. Later, as a gesture of gratitude, he decided to finance the construction of the chapel of San Niccolò, the main room of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Originally built for the sick, today this place is the heart of the Museum-Store in Via della Scala 16 in Florence.
The first recorded evidence of the production of perfumed waters with medicinal properties dates back to 1381. During the 1381 plague Rose Water, a simple yet very unique product, was used for the sanitisation of rooms and spaces, and as a light medication to be drunk with wine or taken in pills.
Caterina de' Medici
Betrothed to Henry II of Valois, Caterina de’ Medici wanted to bring a gift: an essence that conveyed the grace and elegance of Florence.
It is said that her perfumer Renato Bianco, also known as René le Florentin, recommended the Dominican friars of the church of Santa Maria Novella, with whom she was already close.The result was astonishing: one of the first alcohol-based perfumes in history was created, and its citrus fragrance won over the courts of France.
It was originally named “Acqua della Regina”- literally “The Queen’s Water” - in homage to the generous patron.
The convent Pharmacy
A lay apothecary was appointed to run the Pharmacy, which from then on would have its own separate accounts. This was the official opening of the ancient Pharmacy, although it was not named yet "Officina".
Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
On October 15, 1612, the Council of the Dominican Convent set up an aroma laboratory, naming it Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, or the Perfume and Pharmaceutical Laboratory of Santa Maria Novella.Friar Angiolo Marchissi, an apothecary, scholar and master of alchemy, was more than just a director. His formulas, inspired by traditions handed down orally since the Dominican Order had first settled in Santa Maria Novella, were exported all over the world.
The Acqua Antisterica, one of his most successful formulas - now known as the "Acqua di Santa Maria Novella Elisir" - remains one of the Officina's most representative products to this day.
The renewal of the Apothecary
It was the end of the 18th century when Cosimo Bucelli, the director at the time, together with the Council of the Dominican Convent, began the restoration of the Ancient Apothecary, reshaping it in accordance with the spirit of the Enlightenment: rational and resolute. That's how the features that you can admire today came about. The walls were decorated with gold-lacquered furniture and the vault was frescoed with fictional creatures including the two "spirits" in the corners, wishing healing and recovery to all those who entered. Before this devoted restoration, the Ancient Apothecary only held the counter surrounded by bare walls, a legacy of the friars who had been working there since the 13th century.
400th anniversary of the founding of the Officina
The original Via della Scala premises are genuine museum rooms. Restoration of the rooms, which are still part of the shop today, was completed by the company for its 400th anniversary. The herbal shop was once the Ancient Pharmacy (Antica Spezieria), where the products were displayed and sold between 1612 and 1848; the Main Room (Cappella di San Niccolò) was renovated in 1848 to provide an appropriate space to accommodate the patrons of the increasingly popular establishment; the Green Room (Sala Verde) was the reception room until 1700, where pharmacy liqueurs like Alkermes, China and in particular hot chocolate, once a fashionable beverage, were served. The museum was established to reappraise the machinery and equipment used for production, as well as the antique ceramics and the precious glass, copper and bronze objects that the company has guarded jealously through the troubled events over the centuries. The museum’s purpose is not only to educate visitors about Santa Maria Novella products but also to benefit those who wish to visit a “museum of tradition”.