Farmacia Degli Incurabili

Via M. Longo, 50 - Naples (NA)

Farmacia Degli Incurabili

Left miraculously unscathed by the political and military upheaval Naples was subjected to, the Incurables Pharmacy, which is accessed by an elegant and quite unique double staircase, is an outstanding example of the beautiful decorative tradition of the city”.

These words were written in the early Seventies by Guido Donatone in his book on Naples’s most famous pharmacy. The volume illustrates its unique character and, especially, its exceptional and complete collection of ceramic jars.

The noblewoman Maria Longa, after miraculously recovering from a paralysing illness after visiting the Sanctuary of Loreto, in 1520 decided to devote herself to helping the less fortunate in her city, building a hospital with a pharmacy on the same site it stands on today.

Two centuries later, thanks to benefactors who followed her example, an eighteenth-century villa with a colonnade and garden was built to house a new pharmacy designed by the architect Vaccaro.

Now the poor people of Naples had a home similar to that of their princes; 240 jars manufactured by Donato Mazza were purchased for the laboratory to hold all the medicines they needed to treat their patients.

They are mainly majolica jars decorated with turquoise scenes and figures on a white background. The pharmacy furnishings which hold the jars, in light carved walnut and topped by capitals and moulding, are punctuated by glass-fronted cabinets which contain vials still filled with vegetable salts obtained by incineration from medicinal plants.

While this, the more technical part of the pharmacy, is beautiful, the central room where the medicines were displayed and dispensed is quite extraordinary, with three entrances and marble portals leading onto a colonnade.

The surface area of the pharmacy, measuring approximately 15 metres by 7, is unparalleled throughout Europe and the floor with its vibrant light blue and yellow-ochre majolica tiles delights visitors.

If you look up, the walls are lined with dark walnut baroque shelves embellished with gold capitals and pinnacles, the work of cabinetmaker Agostino Fucito. Large glass cabinets are placed between the shelves here too, with their gold back panels a striking contrast to the wood. The collection of jars is guaranteed to take your breath away: there are four hundred jars of varying heights (from 24 to 36 cm) with dome or flat lids, depending on their contents, with scenes from the Old Testament painted on one side - further testimony of the golden age of ceramics that Naples enjoyed in the 18th century.

The symbol of the Hospital - a cross and a pomegranate - is often represented on them.

Above the furnishings is heavy baroque stucco work and, in each of the four corners, a medallion portraying the leading men of chemistry and physics of the 18th century: Volta, Davy, Berzelius and Lavoisier.

The ceiling is not actually a fresco but an enormous painting by Pietro Bardellino dated 1470, which portrays Machaon tending to a wounded warrior.

All this was made possible by the generosity of the hospital’s main patron at the time - Antonio Maggiocca - whose bust sits above the high marble doorway which separates the pharmacy from the back rooms.