Walgreens Pharmacy – one of the many reasons why I love America. In five minutes I’m in and out with chapstick, ibuprofen, Reese’s and a People Magazine. Could I really ask for anything more? With America’s love of Walgreens, CVS, and RiteAid, I wonder if anyone ever ponders about the genealogy of this modern day marvel? …Probably not, but we should! One quick Wikipedia search about the history of pharmacies will immediately take you back to medieval Florence to the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella – the very first pharmacy. To get to the pharmacy, pin point the large and hard to miss Piazza of Santa Maria Novella on your Florence map (free at any Info point in the city).
Distance: 750 m from city center (about .5 mile) From Piazza del Duomo walk west on Via de’ Cerretani and continue on Via dei Banchi. In about 9 minutes you will reach Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Pause to check out the the famous 15th-century facade of the Dominican Church. From here follow your nose down Via della Scala (go to the opposite side of the piazza from the church, and with your back to the piazza, turn right). Now here’s the tricky part. Although arguably the most famous profumeria in the entire world, the pharmacy keeps a low profile. Best to follow the address numbers on the street. The exact address is 16 Via della Scala. Stick to the right side of the street and look for a large brown door with a blue number 16 next to it.
Unlike most shops in Italy, the pharmacy is open all day (9:3oam – 7:30pm). So while the rest of Florence siestas, head here. But in the hometown of Michelangelo’s David, Dante’s Inferno, and Galileo’s telescopes, why is the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella worth your time? Let’s rewind just shy of 800 years to medieval Florence. The Dominican friars of Santa Maria Novella were spending their days concocting ointments, lotions, disinfectants and medicines from the herb garden at their convent to supply the infirmary. In a society and period perpetually under threat of the next plague outbreak, the friars certainly had their work cut out for them. By the year 1612 the friars opened their doors to the public, and the pharmacy that we venture to today was born. By the 18th century the scents of rosemary, thyme and lavender wafted across the Alps and the friars’ products began to gain international attention throughout Europe and even the East in India and China. The pharmacy became a favorite of Kings, Queens, Dukes and Duchesses. Today the pharmacy is considered a profumeria and is arguably the most well-known in the world. As you pass through the over-sized doors and stroll down the marble hallway, forget that you are on a budgeted trip. For just a moment pretend that you are Queen Elizabeth, King Louis, Grace Kelly or whomever you want to be, stopping by to pick up your favorite Florentine soaps and lotions while vacationing in Tuscany. The pharmacy is made up of palatially decorated rooms lined with cabinets full of delicate, delightful little treasures. In most of the rooms you will find a counter and a sales person happy to concoct a special scent on your behalf. Don’t be afraid to try out a dot of lotion or a spritz of perfume from the designated tester tables. Sure, we may not be able to afford the 100-euro bottle, but the samples and the scents are free and will last long after you leave! Not only does the pharmacy offer a luxurious scensory experience, but will also satisfy your intellectual appetite. As you browse, take note of the pharmacy’s artifacts on display. Antique mortars and pestles that the friars used to grind herbs from their monastic garden sit quietly on the shelves. Even some of the friars’ medicinal recipe books lie open for visitors to read the same recipes that they read when making their medicines. Gawk, smell, sample, and learn. Although you won’t be able to pick up your prescriptions here, the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella offers a fascinating, free and unique way to experience a part of Florentine history. And aren’t you glad to take a breather from museums and churches?