The Golden Head Apothecary (“La Testa D’Oro”), was located almost opposite the Church of San Bartolomeo, close to the San Marco side of the Rialto Bridge. It is a very busy area, full of souvenir stalls and shops and the head being 5 metres off the ground; is easily overlooked.
The bronze head, is all that remains of the old shop “Alla Testa D’Oro” (At the Golden Head) and functioned to identify the shop to the largely illiterate population of that time. It is all that remains of the site of the most important and famous spicery (spezieria) of Venice.
On the wall underneath the head, is a fragment of an inscription, referring to the “Theriaca d’Andromacho”; a universal panacea or potion; believed to be efficacious against any number of ills.
They started to produce it in 1603. The quality of their remedy was considered so outstanding, that the Venetian State authorised them to produce it three times per year; while other licensed apothecaries were allowed to do so only once a year.
Apothecaries were stipulated to put all the ingredients on display outside their premises, for three days before the process started. The most common ingredient was from vipers and said to have restorative properties for aging skin! Snakes were collected in late spring to summer and kept in lattice-work cages, much to the amusement of the public.
The Venetians built a reputation for the quality and efficacy of its state licensed and regulated product, gaining an international export market.
In the 1940’s, with the introduction of new regulations regarding pharmaceutical products; opium added for its analgesic properties, was banned and the original recipe could not be produced anymore.
There are two other sites today, where traces of the past manufacturing process can be seen:
Firstly, in the San Marco district, just opposite the Pharmacy at the junction of Calle Spezier and the Campo Santa Stefano. About five metres from the Pharmacy are three circular depressions in the paving. These mark the space where cauldrons were placed.
Secondly, in the Cannaregio district outside the “Alle Due Colonne” Pharmacy, can be seen another depression; where the Teriaca manufacture took place.
Interested in the legend and production of Teriaca in Venice? Click the link to see my other related post: “Teriaca – The Divine Potion”
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