In the heart of Florence there is a truly special place where time stopped four centuries ago when, in 1221, the convent complex of the Dominican friars was founded, a masterpiece of the Renaissance, which still today preserves a unique apothecary tradition in the world.
In 1612, one of the most renowned perfumeries and herbalist shops in the world was officially inaugurated in via della Scala, named the Foundry of His Royal Highness by Ferdinando II de’ Medici. Still active and perfectly preserved in all its splendor, the Officina profumo-farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is truly an experience not to be missed.
From historical documents it can be seen that already in the fourteenth century the Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella were known for producing miraculous rose water, as well as balms, ointments and ointments made using the medicinal plants grown in the adjacent garden, the so-called “semplici” (the simple ones) from from which the botanical garden of Florence known as Giardino dei Semplici takes its name.
We cannot refuse the persuasive power of perfume, it penetrates us like the air we breathe penetrates our lungs, it fills us, it dominates us totally.(Patrick Süskind)
From the entrance to the perfumery, a majestic stone door bearing the Dominican coat of arms, the shop develops into different environments.
The first we encounter is the Sales Room, restored in the mid-nineteenth century and furnished with imposing neo-Gothic wooden wardrobes, whose beautiful frescoed ceiling represents the four continents to celebrate the fame of the pharmacy in the world. In fact, consider that in the 18th century pharmacy products were even exported to China and the Indies.
Next, we come across the Green Room which overlooks the garden, built between 1335 and 1337, which in the eighteenth century was used to receive illustrious guests, serving them refined specialties such as Alchermes, China or chocolate, which was very fashionable at the time. Today it houses a collection of portraits of the various directors who followed one another from the opening of the Officina onwards. From the Green Room you can access the Ancient Spezieria, now transformed into a Herbalist’s shop, which originally housed the Sales Room.
The environment is characterized by seventeenth-century wardrobes which make a beautiful display of the products and an important decorated stucco ceiling, dating back to the eighteenth century, where a riot of fantastic animals, ribbons, festoons and botanical elements appear. From here we continue towards the beautiful Sacristy where the distilled waters were stored.
Richly frescoed, the “Room of Waters”, as was called at the time, shows the stories of the passion of Christ painted by Mariotto de Nardo between the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth century and it was splendidly restored in 2012.
The itinerary develops further in the museum section, in the storage cellars, in the herbal tea room and in the distillery which overlook the ancient botanical garden of the friars, open on special occasions. The collections of ancient instruments and pharmacy jars made by the Montelupo ceramics, Richard-Ginori and Chini are just wonderful.
The Officina, in addition to its own lines of fragrances and beauty care, also creates refined signature collections such as the one developed for the Spa of the Savoy Hotel Suite, and periodically hosts contemporary art installations such as Blooming in Paradise by Felice Limosani, an immersive work that can be visited for free until 29 February 2024.
The current Sales Room, an ancient chapel dedicated to San Niccolò di Bari, protector of the noble Florentine family the Acciaioli, was donated to the friars by Dardano Acciaioli as a sign of gratitude. In fact, it seems that the nobleman was suffering from an unknown illness and that the only cure was the bearberry, apparently impossible to recover at that time of year. When the Dominicans found out about it, they collected the medicine from their garden and brought it to Dardano who quickly recovered from his illness. So, to thanks the friars for saving his life, the nobleman contributed to the construction of the chapel adjacent to the infirmary which also allowed the sick to follow religious functions.
Officina profumo-farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Via della Scala 16
Tel. +39 055 216276
The visit to the shop is free, for guided visits and private tours we recommend contacting the Officina del Profumo of Santa Maria Novella