Tuscany 2019: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo & Mercato Centrale in Florence

I’ve had a wonderful morning of exploration in an area of Florence slightly away from what’s become my ‘usual’ walk through the city. I’d read about the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a 13th century pharmacy founded by Dominican monks in 1221 shortly after their arrival in Florence. It’s one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. The monks grew medicinal herbs in the monastic gardens for their infirmary. They developed perfumes too and in 1553 created ‘Aqua di Santa Maria Novella’ perfume for Caterina de Medici. So successful were their products that the pharmacy was opened to the public in 1612.


Entry is free and from the moment you go through the lovely doorway the whole place is a wonder and delight to the eyes. It’s simply beautiful.

Everyone was so friendly and helpful and I was invited to try spraying a little of that perfume first made in the 16th century on me. Its light, citrusy smell was gorgeous and ideal for summer – but I decided against paying €80 to take a bottle home!

There were beautiful ceilings – the fresco in the photo on the right below dating from 1312.


The pharmacy was magnificent with many displays showing products and history. You could also look out into the cloisters from here.


There was a tearoom where you could have a drink and also buy tea to take home. I was given some to smell and their ingredients and origins explained. At the back was a little museum area with machines and equipment used long ago to make the medicines and perfumes.


There were lots of things to buy – perfumes, body creams, soaps, ceramics. You were given a card for things to be added and then you collected and paid for them at the end.


And now for something completely different, as Monty Python would have said. From monks, herbals and perfumes to shoes and fashion. Though as I write this I realise that perfume adds a link to fashion! But as I was checking out the pharmacy’s location on a map I saw that the Salvatore Ferragamo Museo was quite close and it seemed like a very different place to head to next. And I do like shoes – even if I’m never likely to be able to afford some Ferragamo ones!

Situated in Piazza S. Trinita, close to the bridge of that name, the museum is in a basement under a Ferragamo shop. Ferragamo is one of Italy’s most famous fashion names. Entry was €8 but there also seemed to be a relaxed guide system. Groups were picked up and taken round with lots of interesting information given. There was a special ‘sustainability’ exhibition on at the moment and it was fascinating to see what had been used to make the clothes and shoes we saw.



This large piece of ‘cloth’ below was made from bottle tops and copper and aluminium wire. It was stunning and reminded me a lot of Gustav Klimit’s paintings.

Some of the famous shoes had been remade in sustainable products, including the famous ‘Invisible’ heel shoe of 1947.


I grabbed a quick cappuccino in a nice little trattoria opposite when I came out and then headed for Mercato Centrale, the large covered food market. A ‘foodie’ must always visit the local market and it was now time to turn my attention back to food.

It’s a huge market with wonderful produce of every kind you could imagine or be looking for. Upstairs there are lots of restaurant and cafe outlets and it was initially tempting to look for lunch there. But I wanted to get outside again into the sunny warm weather.



I headed to SimBIOsi, which is a totally organic restaurant in via De’Ginori.

It’s becoming a bit of a favourite – I’ve eaten in the pizzeria a couple of times – for its great food, excellent wine by the glass, happy atmosphere and friendly service.


I wanted just a pasta dish as I prefer to eat my main meal in the evening. I ordered Maccheroni al pesto di fave, spuma di pecorino e bottarga d’uovo (€10) and glass of local organic white wine (€6).

The pasta dish was amazing, really gorgeous. Especially the foaming pecorino cream. It was a great way to end a fabulous morning in Florence.


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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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