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The Best Medicine

Posted on 1/26/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Inside the third-oldest pharmacy, tools and containers are on display showcasing the way ancient remedies were created.

Question: In what walled old town can you find one of the world's oldest continually operating pharmacies, and the first to open to the public?

Answer: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hidden away in Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a 14th century Franciscan monastery with a secret specialty—the monastery is the third-oldest pharmacy and one of the oldest still operating today. Built in 1317 by monks on a mission to heal the sick, the monastery has been providing natural treatments to the people of Dubrovnik and beyond for the last 700 years.

In the Middle Ages, friars started to become skillful in the practice of preparing herbs into treatments for their sick brothers and communities. As a precursor to the modern pharmacy, the old apothecary in Dubrovnik’s monastery was first used to treat the friars and later opened up to the entire public. Those living within Dubrovnik’s walls, and those outside, could receive remedies for their ailments—some evidence suggests it was the first pharmacy to open to the public.

Along the monastery’s beautiful Franciscan cloisters and open courtyards, friars cultivated their medicinal gardens which are still used today. Under the shady orange and palm trees, they experimented with herbs and flowers, like sage and mint, for natural cures. Here, friars documented more than 2,000 recipes in their apothecary books and reproduced their findings in search of the best treatments.

With centuries of practice, the monastery is home to a wealth of treasures, such as manuscripts, paintings, and a set of instructions on “how to ease the pain of a neighbor.” Stone bowls, grinders, containers, and medicinal books from the Ragusan era are on display, as well as archaic looking tools and laboratory equipment.

Inside the monastery there is a still-functioning pharmaceutical shop where visitors can find treatments for their aches and pains. Creams and ointments prepared with the ancient and secret Franciscan recipes can be purchased, so you can take home one of their age-old and masterful treatments.

8 Facts About the Ancient History of Apothecaries

  • The earliest records of the apothecary date back to 2600 BCE in ancient Babylon, where symptoms and prescriptions were recorded on clay tablets.

  • In ancient Egypt, their herbal knowledge was documented on papyrus, now known as the Papyrus Elbers, written around the year 1500 BCE. The Papyrus Elbers contained more than 800 different prescriptions and 700 drugs discovered by the Egyptian apothecaries.

  • During the 3rd century AD, the Chinese documented their knowledge of herbalism and natural medicine in a book known as the Shennong Ben Cao Jing. The book documented 360 treatments for diseases and ailments using roots, grasses, and herbs.

  • This book was the foundation of ancient eastern medicine as well as some modern holistic medicine. One herb described in the book is May Huang, which led to the discovery of the drug ephedrine in modern medicine.

  • During the Golden Age of Islam, from the years 700 to 1100, apothecaries and hospitals existed all over Baghdad and other Muslim cities.

  • The Islamic apothecary practice gained widespread practice throughout Renaissance-era Italy, primarily through Christian nuns. Nuns began spreading their knowledge and practice in convents across the Italian peninsula and were reputable in the medical community.

  • The Italian Renaissance helped to expand apothecaries into western Europe. By the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe, apothecaries were regarded as skilled practitioners with their own Society of Apothecaries.

  • By the end of the 16th century, it was common for individuals throughout western Europe and England to become trained as apothecaries, herbalists, and physicians.

Visit Dubrovnik’s ancient pharmacy and pick up a treatment made from their secret recipes when you travel on Crossroads of the Adriatic: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia.

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