The Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala: a real hidden gem in Rome

interior of the ancient pharmacy in rome
The Ancient Pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala

If you are looking for a REAL hidden gem in Rome, this Ancient Pharmacy is a must-see. You don’t buy a ticket at a cashier, you don’t enter big museum doors, the signs with indications on how to get in are quite small and hidden.. It is often by word of mouth that visitors end up into one of the oldest pharmacies in Rome.

What’s the story of the Ancient Pharmacy of Rome?

We are in Trastevere, in the Piazza that takes the name from its church. It is the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which literally means: St Mary of the staircase. Once upon a time in this square there was a house with a staircase. This was a special staircase, because there was an image of the Virgin Mary which seemed to make miracles. This is where the name comes from.

In the 1700s a friar-runned pharmaceutical school opened next to the church. The chief of this school was Friar Basilio, who lived until the age of 77 years old. At the time reaching that age was a big accomplishment. He must have taken care of himself well with his medicines!

The Pharmacy stayed open also during the times of plague and it did not only sell medicines, but also conducted pharmaceutical research. There were between 30 and 40 friars working here and they became so expert and their medicines so high quality, that eventually in the 1800s this ancient pharmacy became the official pharmacy of the Popes!

The pharmacy kept running with ups and downs due to historical events in Rome, until 1954. That year the modern hygiene standards led this ancient pharmacy of Rome to close. And it never reopened again.

How to visit the Ancient Pharmacy

A friar of the Discalced Carmelites order will give you the tour inside the ancient pharmacy. The Discalced Carmelites is the order that has been running the pharmacy since its beginnings. You will have to get in touch with the friars through this email: to ask for tour dates and times.

To enter the pharmacy, once you booked, you have to go through the little atrium of the modern pharmacy and ring on the door on your left.

The friar will give you a tour while telling you the story of this ancient pharmacy. He will even show you the medicines that are still there since the closure. Some of them are over 200 years old! Each medicine has a story and a specific function, including the Theriaca, the medicine created by Andromacus, the personal doctor of the emperor Nero.

One of the ingredients of the Theriaca was snake meat. This potion seemed to be working quite well, considering that it has been used for over 1000 years! You are also able to smell what’s left of this medicine, the same smell that Nero and guess how many other people smelled during so much time! A very immersive tour through history of medicine!

But I won’t uncover anymore, the friars will give you a fantastic tour of this incredible place!

Practical info:

  • the friars ask for a minimum offer of 5€ (please note this might change over time, so double check);
  • it is not allowed to take pictures or videos inside. The friar only allowed us to take one, which I am showing you here
  • make sure you are on time for the tour, they don’t like to wait!

Looking for more hidden gems while in Rome? Take a look at our Video Guide to discover more on your own. Or at our in-person experiences to discover Rome with us! 😉

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Written by Federica

Creative director of Live Virtual Guide. Her favorite things are gelato, pizza and the hidden gems of Rome.

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