Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 24: Florence, Part 4

October 1, 2023


Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy

This is the world's oldest surviving pharmacy.

It all began in the 13th century when Dominican monks from the Santa Maria Fra Le Vigne ("Virgin Mary of the Vineyard") monastery, who had migrated to Florence, cultivated herbs and started blending medicines.

In the 17th century, it was officially recognized as a pharmacy and began operating for the general public.

This monastery eventually developed into the Santa Maria Novella Church.

While branches of this pharmacy can be found around the world, Florence remains its headquarters, of course.

Upon entering the store, one is immediately enchanted by a wonderful aroma.

With over 800 years of tradition, the interior is adorned with ceiling paintings that could be mistaken for artwork in museums or churches, as well as antique furniture and furnishings.

On the walls, creams and medicines are displayed in ceramic jars called "albarelli."

Even today, high-quality products like "Acqua della Regina" (Queen's Water) cologne, soap, perfumes, and skincare are cherished by people worldwide.

It's said that they used to manufacture revival medicines for those who had fainted.

"Acqua della Regina" is a perfume dedicated to Catherine de' Medici, the queen of French King Henry II.

In the 18th century, an Italian pharmacist produced this perfume in Cologne, Germany, leading to the term "eau de Cologne," meaning "Cologne water" in French.

Namely, it's the original eau de Cologne.

"Acqua della Regina" remains a flagship product of Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy to this day.

When I checked their online store, a 100ml bottle was priced at $150.00.

Perhaps it could make a nice gift for your wife.

What caught my interest is a liqueur called "Alkermes."

It's made by drying a type of scale insect found on cacti, extracting a pigment called cochineal from it, and incorporating it into a medicinal liquor.

Cochineal has long been used worldwide as a natural red dye, found in beverages like Campari, soft drinks, and even in coloring ham and kamaboko (a type of fish cake).

"Kermes" means "scale insect" in Italian, but it originates from the Arabic "qirmiz," which means deep red.

In English, “qirmiz” is called "Crimson."


I haven't had the chance to try Alkermes yet, but it seems to be available for purchase online, so I plan to order some soon and give it a try.





















TEL 0466-31-0840