Are you ready for a trip back in time?
Ok…I leave you a couple of minutes to read some historic insights of the reality in which you are about to be handsomely conducted!
The origin of Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella http://www.smnovella.it/ dates back to the beginning of the XIII Century when twelve Dominican monks decided to move from Bologna to Florence given the prosperity in trade and arts the city was living at the time.
They settled in an area surrounded by vineyards just outside the wall of the city, reclaimed the land where today we have Piazza Santa Maria Novella and Piazza dell’Unità, and in 1221 they built their convent and began cultivating the garden and using the herbs to prepare medicines, balms and ointments for the small infirmary of their convent.
Just adjacent to the convent there was a private chapel owned by Acciaiuoli family, a famous and wealthy family of Florence. One day a member of Acciaiuoli get terribly sick and asked for a remedy to the friars of Santa Maria Novella.The skilled friars saved him with a special preparation of bearberry plant that was very difficult to find because only available at certain times of the year. Therefore, to show their gratitude, the family donated the chapel to the monks, whose convent was just contiguous. Later the chapel was deconsecrated and the space was dedicated, as it is today, to the sale of refined preparations.
In 1612 the pharmacy was so famous that its manager -friar Angiolo Marchissi – one of the best Italian apothecaries of the time- opened it to the public and received from th Granduke of Tuscany (Ferdinando II de’ Medici) the honor to call it “Fonderia di Sua Altezza Reale” (His Royal Highness’ Foundry). Thus the monks’ business was officially founded, and direct sales of both their curative and ephemeral creations began, reaching Russia, India and China.
Over the years the tradition was carried on. Since 1989 the pharmacy is under the direction of Mr. Eugene Alphandery a mechanical engineer who entered the workshop in 1989 to repair an old machine and fell in love with it.
Today Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is particularly dedicated to the herbalist art but it boasts more than 700 product references http://www.smnovella.it/catalogo.html. The list goes from cosmetics (body, hair and face care), soaps, sun care, hand and foot care, to ancient preparations, extracts, concentrated essences, room fragrances, lotions and creams for children and for men, but also liqueur, herbal teas and blends, herbs for infusion, dietary supplements, olive oil and spices, honey, compotes, cookies, chocolate and sweets, and accessories. Officina has visitors and costumers from all over the world, its products are sold in majors cities of Italy and there are Santa Maria Novella shops in France, Spain, Belgium, England, the US, Japan, Corea, Thailand and Philippines.
But beyond the international profile and the huge variety of its offering, Officina is much much more…Have you ever used the time machine? Just enter Officina, and you will make a step back in time.
Cross the door and you will be engaged in a magical experience for eyes, mouth and nose. In an instant you are surrounded by a heady scent and an elegant neo-gothic corridor leads you to the sale room. Forget about the present, forget about your time and troubles, pollution, confusion, bed smells and frenetic pace. Now you are in the XVII Century: thousands of herbs are stored in ancient wooden armoirs inside the original ceramic vessels next to old stills for distillation and uncounted fragrances and essences.
Raise your head and you see the vaulted ceilings structure of the original chapel, go ahead and you will see the ancient machineries used for distillation and different preparation, together with antique ceramics, precious glass, copper and bronze objects, the XXIII Century frescos of the Sacristy and the ancient volumes with all the secrets of Officina!
Even if the production laboratory twenty years ago was moved to a new facility, three km away from Santa Maria Novella, the tradition is perpetuated in the use of the highest quality natural raw material and by following the artisanal procedures established by the Dominican friars.
Is it not enough? Just think that you can still buy the Alchermes liqueur that was here invented or the the famous essence “Acqua della Regina”, created by order of Caterina de’ Medici, wife of king Enrico the Second of France that made Officina famous throughout France.
The most curious among visitors will be doubtless impressed by the “The Water of Santa Maria Novella”: originally called “antihysteric water”, is a special blend of essential principles of herbs such as balsamita, mint and cinnamon of Ceylon, known for their beneficial and refreshing properties.
The original formula was developed in 1614 by friar Angiolo Marchissi, it must be diluted in water in order to calm the agitated spirit …. obviously I bought it right away …Will it work for my next exam of the Master????????????
We will see!
photo credits: http://blog.fotodartefirenze.it//media/jw_sigpro/users/0000000066/Officina_Profumo_Farmaceutica_SMN_Firenze/002_Officina_Profumo_Farmacia_Santa_Maria_Novella.jpg; http://st.ilfattoquotidiano.it/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/orologio_interna-nuova.jpg; http://www.eventi-firenze.it/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/up_84_opfsmn_fotogallery_salavendita.jpg; http://www.smnovella.it/static/img/slideshow/slide06.jpg; http://www.aminkader.fr/Data/jpg/parfums/2.jpg; http://www.artelabonline.com/article_files/art_3085_XL.jpg;