To Smell: Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

by The Curious Pear

Push open the heavy door, unassumingly located on Via della Scala, and you will find Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the world’s oldest perfumery. Until the 19th century, it was closely guarded by the Dominican friars of Florence, who used herbs and flowers from the monastery gardens to develop fragrances and medicinal body products since the 13th Century. Now it is open to the public, and is one of the city’s most precious sites.

Following the elaborate marbled floor of the entrance hall, the pharmacy opens up before you. Its three main halls are adorned in gold, with high, vaulted ceilings patterned with pastel coloured frescos and glistening chandeliers, offset by the gentle sound of string orchestra music swirling through the air. This theatre of scent houses cabinets of precious glass bottles, filled with the same fragrances that have been worn on the necks of Florentines for hundreds of years. The air is filled with the scent of flowers, herbs and spices. It is heady, but somehow refreshing. The pharmacy’s modern products are a love note to the Tuscan landscape, made using the same methods as those friars over seven hundred years ago. We left with a paper bag of rose potpourri, which kept our clothes smelling of soft pink flowers for days. The rich textiles, low lighting and sumptuous oil portraits give the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella the manner of a Renaissance palace, and though it has turned into something of a tourist trap, its air of elegance endures. In fact, our house still smells of Tuscan roses.