Art, History, Culture and… Medicine – Meet Dubrovnik’s 700 Year Old Pharmacy

Lauren Simmonds

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Not your every day one-stop-drug-shop. Dubrovnik’s Old Pharmacy marks 700 years.

Dubrovnik is famed for many things and certainly possesses a million incredible and unique attributes that are worth shouting about (and we do, click here for more on that topic), but among the most glorified lies one that seems to slip into the huge shadow cast by the city’s equally impressive artistic and cultural scene – medicine.

While Croatia is gaining popularity as a health/medical tourism destination on the world scene, boasting some of the most forward thinking dentists and doctors and some of the most affordable prices, that isn’t what we’re referring to here either. Did you know that Dubrovnik, among all of its other invaluable qualities, boasts the oldest still working pharmacy in Europe? 

In amongst the stunning architecture, indescribable ambience and unique historical story, lies the beautiful yet otherwise unassuming Old Pharmacy (Ljekarnica Male Braće), which was first established by the Franciscan monastery of the Friar’s Minor 700 years ago. This pharmacy has been in working operation since the year 1317, making it stand out as one of the most unique places of interest in the world. As Dubrovnik’s Mayor Mato Franković rightly pointed out – Dubrovnik has been in the vanguard of healthcare and social welfare throughout history.

While human rights didn’t really exist in ”more civilised” nations, the Dubrovnik Republic banned slavery. While wealthy, powerful countries forced others to submit with acts of violence and invasion, the Dubrovnik Republic used diplomacy, civil talks and negotiations. While the typically considered ”better developed” countries of Western Europe freely allowed their sewage to run through the open streets and saw their populations suffer from horrendous (and often preventable) diseases and undergo some absolutely blood curdling operations only to prematurely die – Dubrovnik had cleaning running water and a safe sewage system, as well as various medicines that were way ahead of their time, many of which, particularly natural remedies, are still sworn by and are very much in use to this day. 

Given the utterly unique character of the city and indeed the former autonomous republic as it was, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the Pearl of the Adriatic boasts such an impressive pharmacy. Still, quite unbelievably, this isn’t actually as well known as it ought to be. As mentioned, the pharmacy still works as normal today and has numerous medicines and pills and potions from days of olde still on display. Not your average place to pop in for some paracetamol to cure a lingering hangover, to say the least.

As HINA writes on the 11th of November, 2017, as Dubrovnik’s Old Pharmacy celebrates its 700th birthday, Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek has made a welcome announcement that an initiative has been launched to see the Old Pharmacy finally included on Croatia’s national list of intangible cultural heritage. You’re probably surprised it isn’t already on there, because if anything in the country deserves to be at the very top – then this, the still living, breathing and fully functioning ancient pharmacy, which symbolises the true nature of Dubrovnik’s eternal early advancement in front of the rest of the world – is it.

Mato Franković stated that this anniversary is of great importance for pharmaceutical history in Croatia and the rest of the world. Adding the fact that the Old Pharmacy has been in operation since 1317 and is therefore unique on the global scale.

In attendance of the 700th anniversary celebrations were Dubrovnik-Neretva County’s long-standing Prefect Nikola Dobroslavić, numerous envoys, the health minister and other political figures, as well as Croatian and European Union representatives of various pharmaceutical societies. The International Pharmaceutical Federation also attended, as did the head of HAZU (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts), Zvonko Kusić.

The Old Pharmacy attracts a huge number of visitors and tourists (not just those with colds and headaches) every year, but, as previously mentioned, somehow still doesn’t quite get the level of attention and praise it so deserves. With its 700th birthday being marked and with the spotlight thrown on this historical gem, maybe now is the time for Dubrovnik’s more than impressive Old Pharmacy to finally be placed on the country’s list of intangible cultural heritage.


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