Venice’s perfume tradition has ancient roots. According to legend, it was Theodora Ducas – daughter of the Byzantine Emperor and wife of Doge Domenico Selvo – who made essences a popular passion amongst the aristocracy when she moved to the lagoon. By the 18th century, the city became one of the most important centers for trading perfumes and pharmaceutical products, thanks to merchants importing spices and essential oils from the Orient.
In this context, Spezieria all’Ercole d’Oro – established in 1650 – reached great success and popularity. At the time pharmacies were not just stores, but places where you could meet to discuss science, art and politics, like salons: hence great care was given to furnishings and decor.
Spezieria all’Ercole d’Oro was completely renovated in 1848, and still stands today in its full baroque and opulent splendor. The furniture and paneling are in walnut root wood, and the rich details in its volutes, frames and tympanum express impressive craftsmanship. The walls feature four allegorical statues by Pietro Zandomeneghi, representing Botany, Medicine, Surgery and Physics.
Over the years Spezieria hired skilled chemists and pharmacists – like Giovanni Girolamo Zannichelli, famous for his popular laxative marketed as “Pillole del Piovano” until 1975 (although some say its was really the invention of a priest at the nearby church of Santa Fosca). The Serenissima even defended these pills from “fraudulent falsifications” in 1701.
Today, Spezieria is home to The Merchant of Venice, a boutique selling precious and exclusive essences, which in 2013 launched a project to restore the unique historical value of this location of Venetian perfume tradition.
Article by Barbara Palladino
Translation by Michelle Nebiolo