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The Museum of Pharmacy

 

The Museum of Pharmacy is housed in a medieval building known as the Hintz House located in the Union Square of Cluj-Napoca.

 The Museum of Pharmacy (copyright: Monica Emilia Chirila,  creative commons )

The Museum of Pharmacy (copyright: Monica Emilia Chirila, creative commons)

 

It’s the very same building where the first pharmacy, called Saint George, was opened in the city all the way back in 1573. Apart from the communist period, when a pastry shop functioned in the historic Hintz House, the building served as a pharmacy for almost 450 years. Is this the oldest pharmacy in the world? Probably not, but few others have such a long and storied heritage that goes back to the Middle Ages.

In 1954, Professor V.L. Bologa organized a museum dedicated to the history of pharmacy, hosted in the Hintz House. The museum’s collection comprises the oldest and most impressive collection of chemistry tools and artifacts in Transylvania, as well as a collection of organic and mineral substances. It’s not just the boring stuff you remember from chemistry class – Middle Age medicine was quite different from what you would see in a modern pharmacy. Some of the most famous ‘potions’ found in the Museum’s collection are the ‘mummy powder’, which was thought to cure any disease, and ‘Theriaca venetiana’, a special concoction that was used in case of poisoning. 

The collection of pharmaceutical artefacts, numbering over 1,800 objects, was donated by professor Iuliu Orient and was displayed for the first time in the Transylvanian Museum in 1904. Over the years, other notable donations helped expand the Museum’s patrimony. Today, history and pharmacy buffs can admire a complete snapshot of the science of pharmacy ranging from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Visitors can also see a special collection of pottery, dating from the 1790’s and used to store herbs. The various urns and vessels were made in nearby Turda, and the collection is said to be unique in the world.

It’s not just dusty old pharmacy artifacts – the museum building itself is a sight to behold. Visitors can’t miss the beautiful Baroque mural (circa 1766) adorning what used to be the room where pharmacists sold ailments to city folk. Symbols of the art of medicine can be seen at every step, like the crane on the ceiling, which is considered the protector of life, and Asclepios’ snakes surrounding the tree of life.

A wooden mobile pharmacy, which belonged to the Kemeny aristocratic family, is preserved in very good condition. The contraption dates from the 18th century and is organized exactly as it was back then, with labeled bottles and drawers with potions and powders.

Meanwhile, the substance room hosts over 200 wooden containers dating from the 17th - 19th centuries. 

Enter the basement of Hintz House to see tools used by pharmacists to prepare potions, tin measurements tools, ceramic and wooden recipients, a drip device used to extract tinctures, bronze and copper recipients, as well as bronze jars. Other highlights are the collection of manuscripts and books, as well as the scale made out of wood with brass plates dating from the 18th century.

Perhaps the most fascinating spot in the museum is the old laboratory, where only the head pharmacist and his assistants were allowed to enter. It’s almost like a fantasy movie set – visiting it is like traveling in time to a medieval science laboratory, or, why not, an alchemist’s lair.

Coming closer to modern times, another interesting medical device that can be seen in the museum is the first electrocardiograph in Cluj Napoca. Dating from 1915, the electrocardiograph was made in Paris and it was a major medical innovation at the time.

Whether you’re interested in chemistry, medicine, history, architecture, or just culture in general, the Museum of Pharmacy is a must-see attraction in Cluj.