The Ancient Apothecary of Santa Maria della Scala

History and useful information about the Ancient Apothecary of Santa Maria della Scala in Trastevere, attached to the church of the same name, managed by the Discalced Carmelites.

The history of this ancient pharmacy begins five centuries ago:

 

history of the Ancient Apothecary

Let’s start with the term “apothecary”: the apothecary was a shop-laboratory where natural medicines were prepared and sold. Managed by the apothecary, an alchemical figure knowledgeable in medicinal herbs, the apothecary produced medicines, ointments, and syrups. Particularly important were the apothecaries of monasteries, comparable to modern pharmacies.

The Apothecary of Santa Maria della Scala was founded in the second half of the 16th century, making it one of the oldest in Rome. Initially reserved for the Discalced Carmelite friars, it opened to the public at the end of the 17th century. Over time, the Apothecary of Santa Maria della Scala gained fame and prestige, becoming known as the “Pope’s Pharmacy” (as seen on the following map, it is relatively close to the Vatican), with popes benefiting from its preparations since the time of Pope Pius VIII.

The galenic production (the art of creating medicines using herbs, plants, and other natural ingredients following the indications of Galen, an ancient Greek physician) continued uninterrupted until the second half of the last century when the friars ceased their activity. The pharmacy was then moved to the ground floor of the convent, and in the ’80s it was sold to a private entity but remains open to the public.

Recently, the historical Ancient Apothecary has been reopened as a museum that can be visited by appointment (see below).

 

potions and remedies

The pharmacists of the Carmelite order were skilled in preparing medications and remedies, but as devout religious they strongly believed that to heal the body, one also had to care for the spirit. The inscription above the entrance of the Ancient Apothecary reads: “Neque herba, neque malagma sanavit eos, sed tuus, Domine Sermo, qui sanat omnia” (which translates to “Neither herb nor balm healed them, but your word, Lord, which heals everything”). And indeed, healings based on faith are at the origin of the church of Santa Maria della Scala.

However, in past centuries, the Apothecary was famous for its potions and healing remedies: Acqua della Scala helped with rheumatism and neuralgia, Acqua della Samaritana healed wounds, Acqua di Melissa was used as a calming agent, and various other preparations were dedicated to specific cures. But the most famous and renowned “medicine” of the Ancient Apothecary was the Theriaca: an antidote against viper bites whose recipe is said to date back to Andromachus the Elder, a Greek physician from Crete who was the personal doctor of Emperor Nero. Preparing it required more than 50 ingredients, including viper flesh. Today it is no longer prepared, but the jar that contained it is preserved in the Apothecary.

 

guided tours

The Ancient Apothecary can be visited by appointment only at designated times.

You can book the visit online through various websites and associations of authorized tourist guides, but I recommend contacting the Discalced Carmelite Fathers directly:

tel. 06 – 5806233

anticafarmaciadellascala@gmail.com

contact info

It costs much less (usually the Carmelites ask for a 5€ donation compared to the 18€ charged by some online bookings) and they are the owners of the Apothecary, so it seems right to support their work.

PLEASE NOTE that guided tours are conducted in Italian. You can ask about other languages, but it’s unlikely to be possible.

 

location and address

The Ancient Apothecary is located on the first floor of the Discalced Carmelite convent attached to the church of Santa Maria della Scala, in the square of the same name in Trastevere.

address: Piazza della Scala 23, 00153 Rome (map)

Map showing the location of Santa Maria della Scala Church in Trastevere, Rome

It is a short walk from Piazza Trilussa and the Sisto Bridge.

Standing in front of the church entrance, the entrance to the Pharmacy is to your right: it is in an old building with orange walls and above the arched door there is a large marble plaque that reads “Farmacia Santa Maria della Scala” (this is the entrance to the modern pharmacy, the ancient one is upstairs). It is also clearly visible on Google Street View.

 

curiosities

The modern Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala has also been used as a location for films and TV series. It is notably featured in the film “Vita da Carlo” by Carlo Verdone.

 

 

See also the page dedicated to the church of Santa Maria della Scala.

 

 

 

This site is independently managed and in no way represents the church of Santa Maria della Scala, its parish, or the Diocese of Rome. For official information, please contact the Diocese of Rome or the Order of Discalced Carmelites.
You can also contact the church directly at +39 06 5806233.