For centuries it was the church that provided the only available medicine and hospitals to the poor and wealthy. In Rome such an ancient pharmacy exists, perfectly preserved from the 16th century.
The “Antica Spezieria di Santa Maria della Scala” is located in Piazza della Scala, 23 – inside the cloister of the church of Santa Maria della Scala. Pope Clement VII gave the convent to the Discalced Carmelites (or Barefoot Carmelites) in the middle of the 1500’s. At first the friars started cultivating some aromatic and medical herbs at the convent’s garden to treat their sicknesses and they established an excellent chemist’s school. Towards the end of 1600’s, the pharmacy became so famous in Rome that it was opened to the public.
The Fame of the Pharmacy and One Monk in Particular
A certain Brother Basil became well known for his herbal remedies, especially for his famous Acqua Antipestilenziale (Anti-Plague Water), which cured various types of ailments, that kings, cardinals and popes consulted him. In 1726 he began to teach chemistry, botany and pharmacy to his disciples. He died in 1804 after almost sixty years of working in the pharmacy and his famous essays have been preserved as precious artefacts.
What became the official Pope’s pharmacy quickly became known all over the world. The Discalced Carmelites kept working and producing medicine until 1978, when a new modern pharmacy was opened on the first floor of the monastery. History is also about the fabric of day to day life and how people lived centuries ago. A visit to this ancient pharmacy gives you a wonderful glimpse into an important part of Rome’s life and how medicine was dispensed in the Eternal City.