Friday, November 21, 2014

Farmacia Santa Maria Novella: The essence of Florence, Italy

The Duomo of Florence, Italy at night  (wikipedia)
FLORENCE, ITALYNovember 21, 2014 – On a quiet street, far from the madding crowds in the center of Florence, Italy, a tiny piece of heaven nestles hidden among the multitude of buildings that line the avenue.

Its name, Officina Profumo, offers little description for non-Italian speaking travelers, and even when translated, the words “Office of Perfume” don’t even begin to do it justice. It is the same feeling you get when you learn that Ponte Vecchio simply means “Old Bridge.”

The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is both art museum and apothecary  (wikipedia)
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the complete name for Officina Profumo, is one of the world’s oldest pharmacies dating to the year 1221. Founded by Dominican friars who began making herbal remedies and perfumes for their monastery nearly, it would take 400 years for the pharmacy to gain international public recognition.

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1612, the world quickly learned about Santa Maria Novella’s vast range of products. Even today the pot-pourri is popular around the globe and continues to be produced in huge terra cotta vats using traditional essences and plants that are the same as those in the 13th century.

Entrance to Farmacia Santa Maria Novella (wikipedia)
Like its name, and its reputation, Officina Profumo must be sought after to be enjoyed. Even when you know the address at Via della Scala 16, it is easy to walk past it if you are not observant. In truth, you may even be standing at the front door and not realize you are there.

Peer through the windows to view a long, dark corridor that gives the illusion of emptiness or closure even when the pharmacy is open for business. Be bold. Enter and make your way down the dimly lit hallway that suddenly reveals itself into the Sistine Chapel of Perfume. You have arrived at the essence of discovery.

Take time to linger. Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is not to be rushed. You are surrounded by soaps, balms, medications, perfumes and aromas all magnificently displayed beneath Renaissance arches and frescoed ceilings. You have entered a pharmacy of the soul.

Each Officina Profumo product has a story, and there are many. The precious Acqua della Regina perfume, for example, was originally created for Catherine de 'Medici, the Queen of France in the 1500s. Known as “Water of the Queen” Catherine made it popular throughout France

Elixers of the gods  (wikipedia)
It would be nearly 300 years, however, before it would become the first “Eau de Cologne” in history. That is when Giovanni Feminis took it, and the recipe, with him to Cologne, Germany and renamed it “Acqua di Cologne” in tribute to the city where it was produced.

No matter. The original formula from the days of Catherine de Medici was preserved, and if you simply purchase a product called “Santa Maria Novella” you will be buying the pharmacy’s signature fragrance.

The myriad of soaps are made from whole milk and each with its own fragrance ranging from Honeysuckle, Rose and Iris to Patchouli, Marescialla and Calycanthus. Of course, there are the traditional romantic essences of Jasmine, Violet and Lily of the Valley as well.

Interior of the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy  (wikipedia)
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella a place to bath yourself in the luxury of an ambience where the  showrooms are enticing enough, even without the delicious fragrances wafting through the surroundings.

Unlike most emporiums of a similar nature, Santa Maria Novella is not just for the ladies. The history, the art and architecture offer more than enough atmosphere to keep male visitors equally entranced. In fact, the allure of the surroundings is as much of an enticement to buy as the aromas themselves.

In keeping with the times, new offerings have been created by Eugenio Alfandery, the current proprietor, mixing old world formulas with modern technology and local ingredients whenever possible. Each batch is hand made and closely supervised according to age-old recipes and methods using the strictest guidelines to ensure consistency and quality.

Florence is a city of art and artisans and Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella comfortably satisfies both. In the home of Michelangelo and The David, the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery, many travelers overlook this delightful museum of perfume in the world’s most elegant pharmacy.

Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is proof positive that sometimes traveling just makes good scents.