The Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, which was really the perfume and pharmaceutical Workshop, is probably one of the oldest shops in the world. It is situated in part of the convent (44 rooms covering 1430 square metres) and its Sales Room can be found at number 16 in Via della Scala.
The Workshop, specialized in the distillation of herbs, was already active in Dante's time and famed for its rosewater by 1381. We should remember also that the Hospital of San Paolo stood in the square and that all the monastic orders kept a small laboratory of medicinal plants to cure the sick and pilgrims. However it was not officially founded until October 15th 1612, when the Chapter of the convent decided to improve the quality of "the laboratory of aromatic herbs" by putting an expert chemist, Fra Angiolo Marchissi (1592-1659), in charge of it, so that there would always be an immediate supply of medicines in case of need.
The "herb shop" was almost immediately afterwards granted the title of Foundry of His Royal Highness which helped its products to become so famous that they were requested from all over the world, even distant China. The last monk to direct it was Damiano Beni, who died in 1869. In 1866 the Italian government suppressed all the religious Orders and the convent became the property of the City Council. The shop and laboratory were then rented to the Stefani family, a family of pharmacists and Beni's descendants, who have run it since 1869.