Thursday 17 September 2009

Healing the Nation - the gyógyszertár and the patika

If the stormy weather is giving you a headache - and who, in Budapest, hasn't felt the brain-fogging effects of a 'hideg front' (cold front)? - it is always worth popping into the local chemist's for some aspirin and, while there, have a look around.
In Budapest many pharmacies date back to seventeenth century and often have original interiors intact.
“There are 16 pharmacies in Budapest which are considered historical monuments and 36 throughout the country, including a beautiful chemist’s in Sopron and establishments in Gyôr, Kôszeg and Debrecen,” said Szilvia Solymári, manager of the Városi Gyógyszertár (chemist's) at the corner of Váci utca and Kigyó utca.
The history of a society can often be illustrated by what medicines it used, what potions and pills were swallowed in the search for longevity and good health.
The Városi Gyógyszertár dates back to 1686, making it one of the oldest in Pest.
Unfortunately much of its beautiful interior was destroyed during World War II, but restoration has been made faithfully according to old photographs and the dark brown cabinets and drawers, ancient chairs and the black metal chandelier look like the furnishings of a medieval banqueting hall.
There are records of the first Pest -Buda pharmacist dating from the beginning of the 14th century.
In 1303, a Buda doctor and pharmacist named Péter is mentioned as he was granted exemption from paying a tenth of the wage tax. At this time doctors prepared medicines, and so were considered pharmacists in a way themselves. The two professions only started to separate in the 14th century, but the separation of the two professions had still not completed by the end of the 17th century.
“Patika” is the old name, coming from the word “apothecary” and many of the older generation still refer to the patika. However, many now use the more Hungarian word “gyógyszertár”.
'Gyógyszertár' is a wonderful, tongue-twirling word, describing a store place (tár) for medicine (gyógyszer), which itself is one of those loveable, prosaic Hungarian words describing factually what something is: 'health' (gyógy) 'stuff' (szer).
Similarly - for those interested in linguistics, Hungarians don't fall back on the Latin-based vocabulary to create words but make up their own, logical, descriptive versions. A 'bicycle' in Hungarian is 'kerékpar' - a pair (par) of wheels (kerék) and a camera is a 'fényképezőgép' (a 'light picture making machine')! Fantasztikus!
The pharmaceutical business is booming in Hungary and customers come in with a wad of prescriptions and leave with all manner of pills, potions, salves and unguents in brown paper bags, green glass bottles and phials.
An old lady in the Városi Gyógyszertár illustrated the prominence of the chemist's in daily life when she said if we want to find her again we needn't ask her address, “You can find me in this patika, I come here every day,” she said.
The medieval patikas besides medicine sold herbs, perfumes, paints, candles, paper and silks, and functioned as a kind of general store.
The pharmacists were some of the city’s most accomplished citizens and many belonged to the city council. A painting by C17th Dutch artist David Hyckaert in the pharmacy museum in Tarnok utca shows a very well-to-do married couple who were alchemists.
The husband makes gold and a custodian says, "It was considered a very good profession and highly thought-of members of society were chemists."
They did not have university diplomas, this set them apart from doctors, but they could heal those poorer members of society who could not pay an official doctor.
At the end of the 17th century, the patikas in operation were the Arany Sas in Buda, the Fekete Medve Gyógyszertár in Buda and the Szentháromság Gyógyszertár in Pest These three dealt with Pest-Buda's needs for nearly one hundred years.
In 1760, in the newly-formed Medical department of the Nagyszombat university there was a pharmacist training facility, known as the Generale Normativum in Re. Sanitaria. (1770)
The oldest chemists in Pest was the Váci utca 34 Szentháromság Gyógyszertár. It was founded in 1686 by Herold Henrik Siegfried and for a long time it worked alone to serve the medicinal needs of Pest citizens.
In 1701, Osterwald Zakariás received permission to found a new patika, however in 1705 he bought the Szentháromság Gyógyszertár and amalgamated it with his new patika. The patika at the beginning used the Városi Gyógyszertár name, and it was known as this until 1928 when it became the Városi Gyógyszertár a Szentháromsághoz.
At the end of the 18th century, in accordance with the growth in population, more pharmacies came into being.
The Kigyó (snake) Chemist's is at Kossuth Lajos utca 2 is one of the oldest working chemist's in the city.
It originally existed under the name of Csillag when Károly Stehling opened the premises on the now-demolished Kigyó tér 1 in 1784. It moved to its present site in 1899.
The original furnishings date from 1870 and are neo-Rococo. After the move, the interior was decorated further in the Secessionist style.
A grey marble tablet near the entrance to the Kigyó displays the dates, and opposite on the left hand side, another shows a statue of a snake coiling around a cross.
The snake entwined around a tall goblet is now the recognized symbol for pharmacies in Hungary.
Unusually, here in Hungary the snake is seen as a symbol of healing. “Snake venom was often used as a cure and the snake is considered a doer of good things,” explained Solymári.
In the underpass that joins the two stretches of Váci utca you can see a giant black and white photo of the original Kigyó Gyógyszertár, A large painting in the shop window shows a huge boa constrictor coiled around a tree.
To see this in colour, visit the Kiscelli Museum where a whole room is devoted to the Arany Oroszlán Patika. The Golden Lion Pharmacy was lifted in its entirety from the centre of Budapest (it opened in 1794 by Kálvin tér), with drawers and jars of herbs and poisons all labelled in ceramic plates. Mortars and pestles sit by the silver cash register and the frightening painting dominates the entrance.
One of the oldest pharmacies was found on Kristóf tér. The Nagy Kristóf Gyógyszertár was the first officially registered fiókgyógyszertár or dispensary in Pest.
It was founded in 1791 by Ignác Schwachhofer, the owner of the Szentlélek gyógyszertár on Király utca, in a building at Váci utca 6/Kristóf tér 2, which was named after Kristóf Nagy.
In 1833, the owner at the time Imre János Prégardt was the first to write the words ‘gyógyszertár’ instead of ‘patika’, and the first to give the medicines on offer names in Hungarian as well.
The Nagy Kristóf Gyógyszertár in 1909 moved to Kristóf tér 7 then in 1914 it moved to the one time Váci utca 1-3 but you cannot go there for your cough mixture now, as it was demolished in 1909.
Since 1985, the square has been decorated with a fountain and statue of the Fish-selling Girl by László Dunaiszky. The ‘Haláruslány kútja’(the well of the fish-selling girl) had previously stood at the Inner City fish market at the Pest end of the Erzsébet Bridge.
The Pesti Halász company put the fountain up in 1862 but because of bridge building it was moved to Népliget for a while.
Budapest City Council made Kristóf tér into a pedestrian square and put the fountain back in 1985, restored by sculptor Sándor Lovas and builder László Wild
In 1963, the then Ethnographic Ministry made 16 Budapest pharmacies protected buildings. All state pharmacies were privatized after the change of political system and Solymári said that the classic chemists all keep a corner of the shop devoted to the old style of pharmacy with an arrangement of old bottles, pestles and mortars, to distinguish the from the many ‘drogeries’ that have sprung up. “There are now so many chains of stores that strict new laws will be introduced this year to keep things under control”, said Solymári.
She said the classic style of pharmacy must always have two trained chemists present.
Solymári said that other chemist's worth visiting are one at Dísz tér, on Pannónia utca, a very old pharmacy next to the Opera House that escaped fire damage and has original furnishings and one with black furniture on the corner of Nefelejcs utca and Garay tér.
Solymári said that the wall painting by Kocsár Bretschneider in the Octogon pharmacy is of Hygieia and Asclepios
Standing on the corner of Szófia utca, the Oktogon Gyógyszertár was originally founded in 1786, in the Tabán district in Buda and moved to its present site in 1924.
The neo Baroque furnishings were made at this time.
A plaque on wall states that Gustav Mahler lived here when he was director of the Hungarian State Opera from 1888 to 1891.
There are some interesting cures. At Teréz krt 41, there is a pharmacy with an interesting sign that reads “The fresh snake venom antidote is now in” - Budapest is now gripped by a mania for collecting dangerous and deadly pets. Besides baby turtles and the odd hamster, pet shops stock tarantulas, lizards and deadly snakes.
Newspaper back pages are filled with stories about the “cobra that went berserk in a tiny flat”, and doctors say it is only a matter of time before a fatality occurs.
The snake serum only keeps for a certain period of time and is very expensive to buy.
Hospitals do not always have it in stock, ready for an emergency.
The Arany Sas Pharmacy Museum at Tarnok utca 18, in the Castle District also displays some strange cures.
A mummified head was powdered up and the potion was drunk to relieve fevers and sore throats...!
The museum was originally a genuine pharmacy called Arany Egyszarvú (Golden Unicorn), established in 1688 by Ferenc Bôsinger. It was the first pharmacy in Buda Castle after the expulsion of the Turks, and moved here in the mid-18th century.
The building was formerly a merchant's house and dates from the early 15th century. Inside, an alchemist's laboratory is recreated and strange creatures hang from the ceiling, a dried, stuffed crocodile and a large lizard.
The tiny museum is crammed full of bottles and jars, C18th handwritten notebooks and some pictorial records of Kozma and Damján, Arab chemists who died martyrs and became the patron saints of pharmacists.
The Semmelweis Museum of Medical History at Apród utca 1-3, behind the Tabán church is the resting place of physician Ignác Semmelweiss (1818), known as the 'savior of mothers' because of his discovery of the causes of puerperal fever - sepsis during childbirth.
The museum exhibits the furnishings of another old Pest pharmacy, the Szentlélek Patika, founded in 1786 and also on display are skulls, strange remedies, mummies and a shrunken head.

Useful chemist's
Csillag Patika. VII. Rákóczi út 39
All-night chemist's
I. Széna tér 1
II. Frankel Leó út 22
IX. Üllôi út 121 (Nagyvárad metro stop)
XII. Alkotás utca 3 - gives medicine out through a hole in the wall at weekends
VI. Dob utca 81 - original interior with very beautiful lamps
XIII. Pozsony út 2 - with the snake coiling around a beaker symbol.
Kossuth Lajos 10 - Azur Drogerie- is not a pharmacy but it has a long, narrow interior, lined with cabinet and drawers made of brown wood that resembles a pharmacy and is worth a visit