Although Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has become a must for most visitors to Florence seeking lovely perfumes and bath products. Now there’s another reason to visit: a tea room that provides a much-needed respite for weary travelers.
Inconspicuous and yet bursting with the rich history of Florence, this apothecary sits on Via della Scala with a classically Florentine storefront: a vaguely yellow painted wall surrounding an ornate and crumbling ancient crest resting atop the entrance.
A step inside reveals checkered marble floors – decorated in the pink and green hues that one gets used to seeing around Florence – and a spanning interior. Walls are stacked with ancient-looking vials and potions, impressive displays of historical artifacts are scattered about the building, the sights and smells of the medieval apothecary enraptures.
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella can be traced back to 1221 when the Dominican monks arrived in Florence and built their monastery just outside of the city walls. From the garden planted beside their living quarters, the monks began to experiment with herbs and plants to create balms, medicines and ointment to keep their own members in good health.
In 1612, the apothecary was opened to the public – earning much praise from the royal and aristocratic members of Florentine society. Interestingly, when the pharmacy opened its doors to sell commercially, this began to set a precedent for the abundant use of perfumes in higher society. Their first endorsed fragrance was made for a Medici who became Queen of France – who wore the specially crafted Acqua della Regina. From then on, the fame of the apothecary spread to the corners of Asia and Europe – reaching as far as Russia, India and China.
And yet, amid all this antiquity, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has added another chapter to its storied history.
In December 2014, the pharmacy opened a Tisaneria (tearoom) for guests to relax from their sightseeing ventures and to enjoy a taste of traditional Dominican generosity. In keeping with the customs of the ancient Farmaceutica, the tearoom was created in order to pay homage to the Dominican ideals of conviviality and hospitality – by serving food and creating an environment that invites its patrons to relax and enjoy.
The tearoom serves tea, tisanes (medicinal teas), liqueurs and sweets, which are made here following ancient Dominican recipes and using local organic ingredients.
When in Florence, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is a must-see – from its nearly thousand-year old history to its modern revamp, it is a perfect illustration of the old seamlessly meeting the new – and if you’re there at tea time, all the better.
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is located at Via della Scala, 16. It is open daily from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Mary Zakheim