Active since 1612, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest Florentine craftsmanship institutions. Founded by the Dominican friars, who lived in the cloister next to Santa Maria Novella church, the company uses healing herbs to produce ointments, essences, perfumes for the body and the environment, soaps, cosmetics and liquors.
Still located in a magnificent shop/museum in Via della Scala, Famaceutica Santa Maria Novella is a perfect blend of traditional craftsmanship and technological innovation. Francesco Carlino told us about it: “Since the early ’00s, under the direction of Eugenio Alphandery, Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella has experienced a process of productive improvement. The workshops, which until 1999 still used machinery built in the second half of the ‘700, were moved elsewhere and equipped with modern gears. We still produce according to traditional techniques, though. The original machinery is still on display in the store.
In 2012, to celebrate the 400 years of uninterrupted activity, we have undertaken a demanding restoration work, which has allowed us to bring to light wonderful plasters decorations from the eighteenth century, and in some cases even frescoes dating from the fourteenth century. Where originally lay the cellars, we have created a small museum. Here we store equipment which date back to 1600: decorated vases made of ceramics, a still realized from drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, and some ancient manuscripts containing remedies against the plague”.
This commitment to preservation, however, goes hand in hand with a significant innovation as far as the sales process is concerned: “At the entrance, we provide our customers with an electronic card – tells us Carlino – on which they can upload the products they select. These are then delivered directly at the check-out. In order to get information about our products, customers can either ask the employees, or rely on touch-screen computers“.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella’s best-known products : “The oldest fragrance produced by Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is definitely the Acqua Santa Maria Novella, also known under the name of Eau de la Reine (Queen’s Water). This perfume made from Calabria Bergamot was indeed commissioned by Catherine de ‘Medici, the future Queen of France, in 1533. Another specialty is the Elisir di Santa Maria Novella, originally called Anti Hysterical Water. It is a hydro-alcohol solution, based on aromatic herbs, to be drank dissolved in water, in order to soothe the nerves. It was created by the first director of the Farmaceutica, brother Angiolo Marchissi, in 1614.
We also sell liqueurs with healing and digestive characteristics: Alkermes, Elisir di China, Chocolate liqueur. The monks used to serve them to clients at the reception, in the green room. We recently re-discovered this ancient tradition, transforming the former workshops into a tea room, where guests can stop and eat breakfast“. We stopped by for a coffee, and we tasted a selection of chocolates spiced with essential oil of rose, jasmine flowers, mint and cinnamon. We assure you that they are a must try!
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella is located in Via della Scala 16, and is open daily from 09:00 to 20:00. At the following address you can book guided tours to the shop/museum, while on www.smnovella.it you can find more information on the history and the products of Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.