Islamic Pharmacy


Carved, painted and gilded wood

Damascus, Syria

19th century

Inv. no. 15213

Pharmacy Museum Oporto

Islamic pharmacy that existed inside a Damascus palace in the 19th century and that has presumably worked as a training center and apothecary.

The pharmacy is composed of an original ceiling arranged around a large molded and gilded centerpiece, containing in its niches myriads of small mirrors that reflect the light in all directions. The walls are carved and decorated with golden and polychrome stucco, painted with a series of arabesques, panels of floral and architectural designs and inverted Tughra inscriptions, so that they can be read in mirrors.

From the 9th century on, Damascus assumed an important role in the development of the training and practice of Islamic pharmacy and medicine. Medical-pharmaceutical assistance was provided in hospitals, leprosariums, apothecaries and palaces to all those who needed health care, regardless of religion, wealth or social status.

Pharmacies were essential in palaces, not only for its residents but also for the population of neighboring areas. The provision of health care to the needy was a central part of the soul of the Islamic culture, supported by caliphs, sultans and high-ranking members of the society.

The pharmacy inside the palace was organized in two areas: the medical-pharmaceutical library and the area dedicated to the preservation of the medicines. The production of therapeutic substances was generally removed from the main building, for safety and odor reasons.

The gardens were another area dedicated to health. They included several fountains and numerous circulating water spaces, resulting in a particular sonority favorable to the treatment of nervous and psychiatric diseases.

The body of professionals dedicated to the provision of services varied in number and in specialties, depending on the size of the palace and the socio-political importance of its owner. Pharmacists, doctors, surgeons, ophthalmologists, musicians and singers were all categories related to health.

Inside this pharmacy, near the ceiling, inverted inscriptions could be read in the mirrors, with the name of the Sufi masterAbd al-Qadir Jilani ((died in 1166 AD), founder of the Qadiriya (tariqa), order, calling for study and knowledge.

The pharmacy space is thus a place of teaching and debate of the scientific movements, of medieval Arab masters like Ibn Sina, al-Majusi e Ibn al-Baytar, and of contemporary doctors and pharmacists such as Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Salawi (1791-1840).

Throughout the 19th century, the traditional Islamic currents of pharmacy and medicine continued to coexist with modern European science.