Farmacia di San Marco

Fate is truly fickle.

You take 2 historic pharmacies, founded in Florence long, long ago. I’m speaking of the le farmacie di San Marco and di Santa Maria Novella. Santa Maria is still going strong, while the farmacia di San Marco shuttered its doors in 1995.  It obviously had a good run!

I’ll be discussing the components of the facade below, but first please notice the little niche with a shelf above the lunette over the door.  There was once a small marble statue, depicting the lion of San Marco, placed there.


I’d never heard anything about the San Marco pharmacy, although I wasn’t surprised to learn the there once was a farmacia attached to this church complex.  It was customary for conventi (in Italian, a convent denotes what in English we would call a monastery) to have a farmacia, selling medicinal products that the monks created.

But, many times a week I ride or walk by the old entrance to the pharmacy of San Marco on Via Cavour in Florence.  The pharmacy is now defunct, but it is lovely that the authorities who closed the shop in 1995 left the old, 19th-century facade.  It speaks volumes and is a charming relic of days gone by.


The San Marco pharmacy was established in 1450 by the Dominican friars, along with its twin, the still operating Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella. Cosimo de’ Medici had a particular interest in San Marco and there is little doubt that his patronage helped the church in all of its endeavors.


The Dominicans were known to be people with considerable culture. The  medicinal preparations they created inspired confidence.

What were the medicines they had on offer? We know they sold at least the following:

  • The Alchermes, much appreciated by Lorenzo the Magnificent
  • Anti-hysteria water, for nervous ladies
  • Elixirs for the stomach
  • Rose water


We know that the monks drew from long-held botanical remedies and experimented with others.  They made their medicines by dissolving the helpful plant material (whether from the flower, the leaves, the roots, or the stems) in alcohol.  Their various products could take the forms of a tincture, a solution, a suspension, an infusion, a potion, elixir, extract, essence, quintessence and or a concentrate.



My favorite product listed on the engraved stone menus is “Coca.”  This would indicate coca cola, which was invented as a medicinal elixir by a pharmacist in Georgia, USA, in the 1880s.  So, that gives us a date for the facade of the old pharmacy.  Would that we could see the earlier versions, now long lost.

I just love the concept of an American elixir on sale in the Florentine pharmacy.








If you can, like I can, picture how this pharmacy must have seemed when these engraved stone tablets were new, then let your mind wander back in time.

The following info on the farmacia comes from:

The Ancient Pharmacy of San Marco was established by friar Antonino, with the generous support of Cosimo de ‘Medici, called il Vecchio, during the reconstruction of the San Marco complex in 1435. From 1450 the pharmacy, whose production was initially reserved for use inside the convent (monastery), was open to the public. The stone lintel of the ancient entrance, is one of the oldest examples of commercial signage with the logo “Fonderia: e: S. Marco pharmacy”, with a minimalist setting in a beautiful pre-humanistic character characterized by broken bar of A.

Among the most famous productions of the pharmacy was an alchermes, particularly appreciated by Lorenzo the Magnificent, and antihysteric water. In 1498 the stomatologic elixir, the Dominican liqueur, the herbal tea, elastin and Scots pine syrup were created.
Then rose water from 1700, about which the Dominicans wrote: <<Thanks to the peculiarity of the singular Rose of Bulgaria, from which it is directly distilled, rose water is miraculous to delay the sad prodromes of old age: wrinkles. Warmed up in a bain-marie, it will restore tiredness and vivacity to your eyes ».

Later, absinthe and the “Bolivian” coca were included among the specialties of the pharmacy. (If this writer is correct, then my assumption about Coca Cola is incorrect.)  The pharmacy was closed in 1995.

The series of gray marble signs of the mid-19th century that surround the entrances give account of the many products of the pharmacy with a composition that incorporates a real typographic sample with graceful, linear, Tuscan, italics and ornate characters.





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