The fragrance of history in Florence


Florence is home to several historical perfumeries that make essences out of top quality, completely natural ingredients.

The best-known of these is undoubtedly Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (via della Scala, 16). Its extensive products  includes perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, historical pharmaceutical preparations, home fragrances, and syrups, including in its renowned Alkermes, found in many traditional Tuscan sweets. Open on Sundays, a visit will dazzle you with the wonderful scents you breathe when you step over its threshold and the endless charm of its interiors and variety of all natural products.

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Since the 1980s, Lorenzo Villoresi (via de Bardi,14), has been designing custom fragrances for the home and perfumes designed to fit the personality of the person wearing it, like a tailor-made garment.

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The Antica Officina del Farmacista Dottor Vranjes (via della Spada 9/R) has a great variety of home fragrances, all-natural and based on spices, flower and fruit. In addition to home fragrances, it has perfumes and body care products based on pure vitamins and minerals to treat yourself in spa style at home.

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Antica Profumeria Inglese (via de’ Ginori 2/R) has been setting itself apart since 1843 for the quality and refinement of its products. It was here that Henry Roberts invented a something that made its way around the world: talcum powder.

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Sileno Cheloni’s olfactory creativity spawned a new line of limited edition fragrances, called Teatro Fragranze Uniche (via Maragliano, 56), founded on the inspiration and dedication of three women with the support of profumiers.

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Farmacia Santa Annunziata. In 1561, the chemist Domenico di Vincenzo di Domenico Brunetti was the 1st manager of the Santissima Annunziata Pharmacy. Since that time the Farmacia has always maintained a special tradition in preparing prescriptions and products for the beauty of the skin. Using ancient processes completely handmade, with pestle and mortar, to special quality controlled preparations made with modern and safe machinery, special attention is paid both with traditional and new raw products. Our ancient tradition has been mantained and the standards of our products have become better and safer.

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Acqua dell’ Elba





Olfattorio Bar a Parfums The experience continues outside the boutique with the olfactory glasses designed by Giovanni Gaidano.

The Misericordia of Florence and its great museum

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The Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia di Firenze (La Misericordia) is a lay confraternity founded in Florence in the 13th century by St. Peter Martyr (St. Peter of Verona) with the aim of extending evangelical mercy to the needy.

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It is the oldest Brotherhood in Florence dedicated to caring for the sick and, in general, the oldest private voluntary institution in the world still active since its foundation (1244). Its lay members, called brothers, still continue to provide part of the transport of the infirm in the city.

To preserve the egalitarian spirit of the company, all of its members wore long black robes (during the Middle Ages the garments were red) and black peaked hoods that cover the face with two holes for the eyes. With this disguise patients never knew if they were being carried to the hospital by a count or a cobbler. It was only in 2006 that the traditional black dress was relegated for use only in ceremonies, due to national regulations.


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For a century or so, the confraternity shared space with the Compagnia del Bigallo. In 1525the Misericordia moved elsewhere; but in 1576 it moved to the corner of Via Calzaiuoli, where it has remained ever since.

The Venerable Archconfraternity of Mercy, which has never known a single break in its charity work since its foundation, was established “for the purpose of assisting and accompanying the sick and the accident-prone to hospital and removing bodies from the street”. The latter role was crucial during such disasters as flooding or the plague. The company also collected alms to help poor girls marry and to the bury the dead.

When the association was founded in the 13th century, it was a time when family feuds and plagues were leaving a high number of disabled and dying people in the streets. This group of volunteers banded together to carry the wounded to hospitals and the dead to cemeteries.


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The headquarters for the Misericordia is in Piazza del Duomo 20 across the street and to the right of the Cathedral. Even if you’re not in need of any medical attention, you’re welcome to visit the headquarters and the church. It’s customary to leave a small donation. But, whatever you do, don’t fail to visit the museum.  It’s hardly known and here, in the heart of Florence, where the hordes of tourists congest the city, you’ll be almost alone.

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I highly recommend a visit of at least an hour to this interesting place; you will learn all kinds of things about the history of Florence and medicine here.

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Olive harvesting

In Maremma no one picks olives before November 2 (All Souls’ Day), by which point the green has begun mottling into black. This is why Tuscan olive oil is so justly famous; Umbrians and Apulians, by contrast, wait for the fruit to fall before they gather it, which makes their oil more acidic.

Usually it took us about three weeks, working six hours a day, to harvest our olives (from 38 trees). Once we were done, we’d pack them in plastic crates and haul them to one of the two frantoi (olive presses), this one located in a warehouse behind the consorzio agrario.

In the room through which you entered, tons of olives, either loose or in burlap bags through which a little moisture was already seeping, waited to be weighed and pressed. There would be at least one truck parked outside, bearing the immense crop of one of the larger aziende, a thousand kilos in comparison to which our five crates seemed meager.

Still, we gave them to the frantoiano to weigh, and he told us to how much oil we were entitled, using as the basis for his calculations a mysterious algorithm that took into account not only the quantity of olives but their relative oiliness in comparison to other years (on average, about twenty percent of the weight of the fruit). We’d nod acceptance of his terms.

Then he’d take our olives and throw them onto the pile with all the others, for generally speaking only huge crops were pressed individually; in the case of small harvests, the olives of several different families would be mixed together, which meant that one could never say truthfully, “This oil is mine,” though of course everyone said it anyway. Having deposited our olives, we followed the frantoiano into the next room, where the machinery itself was located.

This consisted of a huge tub and a stone grinding wheel, operated not by hand, as in the last century, but by a sophisticated system of gears. For sheer scale, it was daunting. The wheel was easily twice the size of the Bocca della Verità in Rome.

As for the tub: if you fell into it you would certainly be crushed in a matter of seconds. At the bottom, a muddy sludge of olive residue shifted and churned, while from its side a stainless steel pipe led to a series of distillation tubes and then to a tap from which a stream of oil was always pouring.

The oil was such a deep shade of green that you could not see light through it unless you held the bottle up to the sun. It gave off a slightly mulchy odor. This was the cold-pressed “extra virgin” oil for which Tuscany is famous. Later, the pulp would be pressed a second time, producing a paler oil; later still, the crumbly residue, by now the texture and color of potting soil, would be forced, thanks to the addition of certain chemicals, to yield yeta third grade of oil, almost colorless and used chiefly for deep frying.

Next the frantoiano—Paolo) who in the summer worked at the Bar Sport, and in the spring did construction at the Terme—asked us if we wanted to take our oil then or wait until “our” olives were pressed. We told him that now would be fine, at which point he began to fill our thirty-liter stainless steel oil urn.

One of our neighbors, a farmer with a lot of land, walked in and greeted us. We would have felt intimidated by his bigger harvest (this is the curse of masculinity) had not a tiny old man followed him in. In his right hand he held a straw basket containing at most twenty olives, in his left a biberon—a baby bottle.

Leavitt, David. In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (pp. 131-132). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.


Leavitt, David. In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (p. 130). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.

Leavitt, David. In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (p. 130). Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.