della Città di Torino

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The Homeopathic Pharmacy


A curious fate intended that the "magnificent" homeopathic pharmacy, founded in 1862 by Pietro Arnulfi in Turin, then taken over by the "Homeopathic Institute" in 1876, annexed to the Italian Homeopathic hospital in 1929 and inherited by the City Council of Turin in 1985, should be set up once again on the threshold of the third millennium in the new quarters housing the Historical Archives of the City of Turin. The history of this pharmacy was linked to the alternating fortunes that homeopathy met with in Italy, and especially in Piedmont. The old "new art of healing" was founded on the "laws of likes", and experimented and theorised between the 18th and 19th centuries by the Saxon physician Samuel Hahnemann (Meissen, 1755 - Paris, 1843). Homeopathy was introduced into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with the encouragement of Francis I and Ferdinand II of Bourbon, who respectively wanted it to be used in 1828 in the military Hospital of the Trinity in Palermo and in 1837 as a cure during the epidemic of "Asian malaise". In the 1830s it arrived in Lucca and from there spread to Genoa and then Turin, where it was widely opposed. The Piedmontese followers of the exact sciences certainly did not award it their seal of approval. In 1838 the Magistrato del Protomedicato [Order of Physicians] in the Royal University of Turin observed: "the preparation of most homeopathic remedies is not considered in the legal pharmacopoeia". However, whether out of curiosity or a certain fancy towards it, Charles Albert countered the reservations advanced by the official bodies about the presumed abuses connected to the practice of "medicine of similia" with a decidedly laissez faire attitude. The illustrious members of that alliance were told: "His Royal Highness sees fit to let the action of time discredit the practice of homeopathic cures if they should indeed be revealed as illusory or fanciful, or else bring to light whether they can be of any real use". The sovereign's intention was explicit: "For now nothing will be done about the practice of that system every time that it is used by persons properly authorised to exercise in Medicine or Surgery and that, likewise, for now they must not be harassed for dispensing remedies of homeopathic treatment". Freedom therefore; not unconditional licence.
Nevertheless, a certain scepticism remained towards the new "doctrine", while an absence of any set rules generated frequent misunderstandings between physicians and pharmacists. The College of Apothecaries of Turin sent petitions to the king against the homeopaths' widespread practice of stocking and directly selling remedies prescribed by the homeopathic physicians themselves. By royal order of 9 February 1839, the "apothecaries legitimately authorised to practice Pharmacy in the capital and in other towns and territories" were allowed to keep "medicinals of homeopathic remedies in a separate place from ordinary medicinals" and the "collegiate pharmacist" Domenico Blenghini was allowed to open a specialist pharmacy in the Piedmontese capital. Consequently the "provision of homeopathic medicines […] by attending physicians" was prohibited. With this and other subsequent measures concerning the activity of the Order of Physicians and the practice of the professions dependent on it, the king thus re-established order in the sensitive sector that ruled the health of his subjects.
However, the diatribe between allopaths and homeopaths continued. Despite this, a Society of Physicians started up the Giornale di Medicina Omeopatica in 1848 in Turin, with a forward by Maurizio Poeti. The branch of medicine inspired by the rule of similia similibus curantur seemed to attract many illustrious converts, such as Vincenzo Gioberti and Antonio Rosmini, both excellent surgeons, and Lorenzo Granetti, director of the Cottolengo Hospital in 1848, and an ever-wider following, including the marchesa Giulia Falletti di Barolo. In the Piedmontese capital, a second homeopathic pharmacy, belonging to Vincenzo Vernetti, was opened in the 1850s in Via Carlo Alberto, facing the Café Dilej and close to Blenghini's pharmacy in Contrada Santa Maria. Meanwhile, the advocates of homeopathy began to develop various types of associations, in Turin as elsewhere, that were even open to women: Clotilde Berta Varetti was enrolled as a member of the Accademia ed Associazione Omeopatica Taurina in 1850. As the Guides to the city recorded a gradual increase in "physician-surgeon-homeopaths", new specialised pharmacies sprang up - one, for example, belonging to Carlo di Cerruti in Contrada di Po in 1855 - that were regularly subject to the "officially ordered visits to ordinary pharmacies", and bound like them to observe the tariffs in force.
In 1862, in Contrada della Provvidenza (today Via XX Settembre), "next to number 1", Pietro Arnulfi's above-mentioned homeopathic pharmacy opened its doors, with splendid furnishings "in cherry wood, painted black" with "gilt decorations", with austere shelving and tight rows of small drawers, each destined to contain a single substance, to avoid any contamination: a real archive of products for infinitesimal confections. In joint "ownership and management", this flourishing pharmacy was taken over in 1876 by the "Homeopathic Institute", a private association of physicians, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, followers and sympathisers of the "homeopathic medical school" that widened its range of actions to a national level in 1882. The Italian Homeopathic Institute, as this association was called, "was founded with the aim of developing and diffusing the practice of homeopathy throughout Italy by all legal means". Initially it proposed "to open public dispensaries in the main towns of the Kingdom, to sustain the expenses of publishing a journal and to set up annual awards to encourage experimental and explanatory notions of homeopathy". In 1886 Humbert I decreed that it became a non profit-making organisation. The next year, under the presidency of the doctor Giuseppe Bonino and thanks to its unexpectedly prosperous financial conditions, the assembly of "officials", representing the two categories into which members had been divided - the "physicians" and "benefactors" (from which, by statute, "ladies were not excluded") -, was able to decide the acquisition of a house in Via Orto Botanico (today Via Lombroso) where a hospital would be established: the Italian Homeopathic Hospital.
With just six beds in 1890, increased to twenty-two in 1903, this hospital accommodated 473 patients in a little less than fifteen years. In 1929, the former Arnulfi pharmacy was annexed to it, transferred from its first site and now destined to prepare exclusively the homeopathic remedies required by the patients. But homeopathy, ever subject to alternating fortunes, lost a large number of its followers over the next decade and the hospital was de-classed to an "infirmary" and then reserved only for "chronic cases". The magnificent furnishings of the pharmacy were left in a state of abandonment and not even the war spared the Institute, which was however revived with much effort during the years of reconstruction. In 1972, the historic homeopathic Pharmacy, considered by some "to be even more beautiful than the one in London", was definitively closed to the public and quite forgotten. It re-emerged from this oblivion in deplorable condition in 1985 when, with the Institute dissolved, the problem arose of finding it a new owner, willing and interested to restore and preserve it. Fortuitously and fortunately the City's Historical Archives were appointed the task. At that time the Archives were waiting to be moved elsewhere; with the realisation of their new quarters in Via Barbaroux the Pharmacy, carefully restored, has finally been given back to the public once more. Alongside the ampullae, mortars and pestles once used for preparing homeopathic remedies, the shelves are now filled with more than 250 surviving volumes from the Institute's specialised library: 19th-century treatises, rare periodicals from the early 20th century, and valuable manuals saved from decay and dispersal and thus once more consultable by those interested in the "medicine of likes" and its history.
Naturally, a privileged position has been reserved for certain "sacred" texts by Samuel Hahnemmann: the Traité de Matière médicale ou de l'action pure des médicaments homeopathiques and the Doctrine et traitement homeopathique par maladies chroniques, both translated into French from German by A.-J.-L. Jourdan, a member of the Académie Royale de Médecine, and published in Paris by Baillière in 1834 and 1846.

Rosanna Roccia