A PRIVATE TOUR OF THE OLDEST WORKING PHARMACY IN ITALY
by Catherine Slabaugh
With over 400 years of Florentine history, the world-renowned Officina Profumo- Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella invites visitors nationwide to be entranced by their breath-taking perfumes, cosmetics, and more.
Upon entering, guests are welcomed with an awe-inspiring fresco that takes you back to the Profumo’s origins in the early 1600s. The Profumo was originally owned and operated by Dominican Monks who created herbal remedies for locals. In the early 1900s, the shop was turned over to the government and transitioned into a Profumo, selling luxurious and diverse products for visitors flocking in from around the world.
The Profumo is divided into six different spaces open to the public; the sales hall, green room, ancient apothecary’s shop, sacristy, museum, and herbal tea room. I found myself gazing at the intricate detail of each room and the elegant products on display, truly a breathtaking sight. Each visitor is welcomed into the shop warmly as Profumo workers invite you to experience their products and find one to take home with you.
We arrived for our private tour early in the morning and were quickly surrounded by a vast array of tourists and locals, eyeing the historic yet elegant products. Perfumes, cosmetics, home fragrances, wax products, liquer, and even a product for your pet can all be found in this ancient palazzo.
Stepping into the first room, originally one of the chapels of the monastery, the sales hall features a beautifully restored fresco that represents the four continents, showcasing the Profumo’s presence around the world. The room holds their perfume, soap, and cosmetic products, truly hand-crafted delicacies.
Turning right from the large sales room, we were taken to the green room and ancient apothecary’s shop. The green room features portraits of each Profumo owner, beginning with the earliest Dominican Monks. Here we gazed upon their candle and wax products, home fragrances, and other household accessories, showcased beautifully amongst fall décor to highlight the season.
Connected to the green room is the ancient apothecary’s shop, the original sales hall from 1612 to 1848. We were taken back in time to the Profumo’s ancient herbal remedies as the elisir, teas, herbal supplements, and specialty liquors were on display. The way in which the Profumo holds on to their historical roots and adapts their products for the needs of visitors today is quite inspiring.
The final room is the small sacristy and museum that gave us a peek into the past lives of the Dominican Monks, complete with a restored fresco of the passion of Christ and ancient machines and ceramics once used in the perfume creation. If you are looking to relax and absorb the ambiance of the space, you will be pleased to know that the Profumo holds their own tea room and café where guests can indulge in a cappuccino or cup of tea, while viewing the handmade chocolates, candies, honey, and tea for sale.
I highly recommend experiencing the Profumo through a guided tour, as there are countless anecdotes and stories you will only learn when walking through the palazzo privately. It is here where I learned about the Profumo’s private enclosed garden, home to all the company’s flowers and herbs used in each product, truly ‘Made in Italy’.
There were two products that stood out to me in particular during my visit to the Profumo. Perhaps the most well-known item that continually draws people in is the Acqua di S.M. Novella Perfume, originally created for Caterina de’ Medici in 1533 and sold today using the same original formula. Another eye-catching product is the historical Santa Maria Novella Water, known as Acqua Antisterica, developed in 1614 for calming and digestive purposes.
As the Profumo holds true to their historical roots, they continually develop products that sweep visitors off their feet. Spending a morning at the Profumo is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that cannot be replicated. I highly recommend incorporating a visit during your stay here in Florence, as this may be the most unique, and elegantly-smelling, a Florentine experience you will have!