The first stage of existence of the “Officina” that later became Santa Maria Novella, can be traced back to 1221 when the Domenican friars, arriving in Florence, built their monastery just outside the city gate. Shortly afterward they began to study and experiment the properties of officinal herbs grown in their gardens next to the monastery. The preparations obtained in this way ( medicaments, balms, and ointments) were at first intended for the monastery’s small infirmary, used to keep the friars and other members of the community in good health.
In 1612 the monk Fra Angiolo Marchissi opened the pharmacy to the public, earning in this way, from the Grand Duke of Tuscany who had taken note of “such apothecary talent” the right for the dispensary to bear the honorable title o “His Royal Highness’s firm”. So the Domenicans officially started their commercial activity selling their curative and ephemeral products directly. Thus the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (Perfume and Pharmaceutical Oficine of Holy Mary Novella) was born with an emblematic name that gave precedence to perfume or the ephemeral rather than the curative aspect of more spiritual inspiration, the medicinal or pharmaceutical.
In any case, this seemed to have been the shrewd move if it is true that the first “testimonial” of the Dominican brand was Caterina de’ Medici, the Florentine noblewoman who was crowned Queen of France for whom the friars created the essence that was known as Acqua Della Regina – Water of the Queen, today named Water of Santa Maria Novella.
During the 18th century, the fame of the products and formulas developed by the friars spread far and wide-reaching Russia, India, and China. In 1886 after the confiscation of the Church’s property by the State, for the first time, the control passed in the hands of a layman, Cesare Augusto Stefani, nephew of the last Dominican friar who had been the Director of the Officina. In 1991 Eugenio Alphandery approached the Officina, “tradition and innovation” have been since then his “motto” and this principle has been applied both to broadening the range of products and opening shops and corners abroad. After 400 years of uninterrupted business in the building situated in Via Reginaldo Giuliani, tradition is perpetuated and renewed.
Raw materials of the highest quality are still used and apothecary father’s artisanal procedures are still followed, yet the company avails itself of modern technology and state of the art equipment. In 2012 the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella had its 400’s birthday of uninterrupted activity. The historical building in via Della Scala has been completely restored with the intention of giving back to the rooms their original appearance. In May 2014 has been inaugurated a very special place for the Officina: the garden of Santa Maria Novella which reminds the Hortus conclusus that was cultivated around the monastery by Dominicans monks in the far XIII century.
During the design of the garden, we have created a walk around trees, flowers, and medicinal plants with the purpose of improving all our senses. In the central part of the garden, there is the Balsamite major, a medicinal plant used by the Dominican monks to prepare the Acqua and the Pastiche of Santa Maria Novella for many years. The perfumed queen of the day has been the Rosa Novella, a kind of hybrid and gallic rose which its creator, Mr. Roberto Cavina, has dedicated to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella. In order to the tradition, a small vegetable garden has been realized by the factory and its growth follows the rhythm of nature so visitors will be able to appreciate the fruits of every season. Today the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella sells its products not only in Florence but also in the main Italian and European cities. In the U.S.A., Russia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia.
Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Via della Scala 16 – 50123 Firenze
Have you ever visited Santa Maria Novella? What was your experience? Leave in the comments below.