The Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala: A Journey Through Time with Herbs and Alchemy

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In the heart of Rome, hidden among the narrow streets and squares of Trastevere, lies a place that encapsulates centuries of history—a sacred site of medicine and alchemy. This is the Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala, a hidden gem unknown to many tourists and even to many Romans. It offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into the past, revealing the secrets of ancient pharmaceutical practices and the preparation of natural remedies.

A History from Afar

Founded in 1600
by the Discalced Carmelite Fathers, the Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala is one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe. At the time, it was known as the “Pharmacy of the Popes” because it provided not only to the Roman populace but also to the Vatican. Here, ointments and medications were prepared for popes, cardinals, and nobles, using herbs and ingredients sourced from around the world.

A Place of Science and Magic


Visiting the Ancient Pharmacy is like taking a leap into the past. The dark wooden shelves are still filled with beautiful ceramic jars and blown glass bottles, each containing powders, tinctures, and ointments. Every corner of the laboratory tells stories of herbalists and alchemists who, with wisdom and dedication, mixed ingredients to create remedies that still fascinate today for their effectiveness and complexity.

The Apothecaries’ Laboratory

In the laboratory, apothecaries worked with tools that today seem straight out of a Harry Potter book: alembics, mortars and pestles, precision scales, and alchemical stoves. Each tool had a specific purpose in the preparation of medicines, which ranged from simple herbal infusions to complex elixirs of long life.

Remedies of the Pharmacy

One of the most interesting aspects of the Ancient Pharmacy is the variety of remedies prepared. Among these, the most famous was certainly the “Theriaca,” an ancient panacea composed of over 60 ingredients, used as an antidote for poisons and as a cure for many diseases. Other remedies included syrups, balms, and powders to cure every type of ailment, from simple colds to more serious illnesses.

A Heritage to Discover

Today, the Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala is a museum that allows visitors to explore this fascinating ancient world. Guided tours offer the opportunity to see up close the original tools and ancient recipes, immersing oneself in an atmosphere that seems suspended in time and tells of knowledge and notions as ancient as they are fascinating.

Curiosities and Anecdotes

  • The Theriaca: As mentioned, Theriaca was one of the most complex and precious remedies. It is said that it required days of preparation and that only the most skilled apothecaries were able to make it correctly.
  • The Pope’s Doctor: Among the most famous apothecaries who worked here was Brother Basilio della Concezione, known for being the personal doctor of Pope Innocent X.
  • Exotic Ingredients: The Pharmacy received herbs and spices from all over the world, thanks to trade routes connecting Rome with the East and the Americas. This allowed the creation of unique and powerful remedies.

How to Visit

The Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala is open to the public only on certain days and for guided tours, to preserve this extraordinary historical heritage. It is advisable to book in advance to secure a spot and experience an unforgettable journey in the heart of Rome.


The Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala is not just a museum but a journey through centuries of history, science, and magic. A visit here allows one to discover how, thanks to the wisdom of the apothecaries, the boundary between medicine and alchemy became thin, creating remedies that still fascinate today for their complexity and ingenuity. It is a place not to be missed for anyone interested in the history of medicine, culture, and the magic of the past.


Photo credits: @StefoH501A on Tripadvisor

Hotel Santa Prisca is at only 20 minutes walking from TRastevere District