By Stephanie Eichberg
A steep climb to Buda – the older half of Budapest – leads to the medieval Castle district and to the beautiful building of 18 Tárnok utca where the Arany Sas (‘The Golden Eagle’s’) Pharmacy Museum is located. Once a 15th-century merchant house, it was also home to the very first pharmacy in Buda which operated until 1745; the building itself was used as a pharmacy until World War One. The Anna street side of the building serves as an example for the 18th-century ‘Serbian shop-door’-style of dispensing medicines to customers in the street. Inside, the pharmacy’s 18th-century furnishings are on display, together with artistically shaped glass or wooden jars once containing powdered or liquid drugs, instruments and a reconstruction of an alchemist’s laboratory. Showcasing the history of medicine and chemistry, along with Renaissance and Baroque pharmaceutics and pottery, the Museum is a hub, albeit a tiny one, that reveals a changing understanding of medicine and long-gone alchemical splendour.
The captions accompanying the objects are in Hungarian and do not reveal substantial or detailed background information. It is possible to book a tour in English in advance, though if a translator is at hand, visitors might prefer to opt for a tour in Hungarian on the day of visiting. The tour guides are staff of the Semmelweis Medical History Museum to which the Pharmacy museum is attached and are not necessarily experts on the history of drugs. For a detailed presentation on the history of Hungarian pharmacies, it might be worth contacting the museum’s expert Ildikó Horány. In any event, visitors with little background in the history of medicine and pharmaceutical drugs can still marvel at the variety of beautiful vessels that once contained curious remedies, the grinders, scales and glass utensils, as well as the lovingly displayed 18th-century pharmacy counter and the alchemist’s laboratory. Historians of medicine, pharmacology and chemistry will definitely enjoy taking it all in.
Website and contact details:
Ágnes Romhányi , ‘ Pharmacists in Hungary during the 18th Century. Their Education, Stores and Practice through the Visitation Reports of the Year 1786’, in G. Barth Scalmani et al. (eds), Research Workshop: The Habsburg Monarchy in the 18th Century (Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Gesellschaft zur Erforschung des 18. Jahrhunders 26, Winkler Verlag, 2011), 209-224.
Mária Vida, Pharmacy Museums of Hungary (Hungarian Society for the History of Medicine, Semmelweis Institute, Budapest: Révai Printing House, 1984)