One of the biggest surprises a traveler can receive, is returning to a city for the third/fourth time and finding out that there still are new things to see and discover.
It has happened to me in Florence, when I got there for the fourth time, already convinced I couldn’t see anything new, instead the unusual places to see in Florence are many.
Instead I discovered Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, the oldest pharmacy not only in Florence, but throughout Europe, which is open for business from over four centuries. Located in 16, Via della Scala, it is not easy to see unless you go looking for it on purpose.
At the entrance you are greeted, respectively on the left and on the right, from Igea, goddess of health and Galeno god of medicine. Here columns, arches, sculptures and paintings leave no doubt on the age of the structure. Born thanks to the Dominican friars in 1612, already in 1659 it received the title of “His Royal Highness ‘ Pharmacy” from Ferdinando II de ‘ Medici. Nowadays it is no longer a pharmacy, but herbal medicine and perfumery shop of the Dominican friars’ products. Inside it preserves a collection of ancient mortars, spoons, thermometers, scales, and apothecary jars dating back to the century in which it was founded. There are at least four big rooms, one more beautiful than the other, including a museum dedicated to laboratory instruments that once gave life to medicines.
You don’t really know where to look once entered, if to study the frescoes on the vaults by raising your eyes to heaven, or those on the walls, or to look at the products in the antique display cases, or to people who, like us, enters and gets enchanted by the perfumes and by the place…
If you’re superstitious, instead, you simply can’t miss “Fontana del Porcellino” (the baby pig’s fountain), at Loggia del Mercato Nuovo. The popular legend wants you to take a dime, rub it on the pig’s nose, put it into his mouth, and let it slip away: if the coin ends up into the grate, you’ll be rewarded with good luck, otherwise… you’ll have to cross your fingers!
In the middle of Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, there is another curious thing: the Scandal Stone, a round of green and white marble where once insolvent debtors were punished, hit with their pants down. A humiliating punishment, which definitely encouraged them to pay off their debts.
Incredible how even a stone, in this city, has a story to tell, isn’t it?