EUROPE. Stroll around any city in the world. If you see something appealing go in and check it out. You might be surprised at what you find. Europe, in particular, is filled with such treasures that can pop up in the most unlikely places. We present three great examples in today’s column. All three are located in the cities of Zurich, Moscow and Florence respectively.
Zurich: Blüemlihalle (flower hall)
It’s difficult to dispute that the world’s most beautiful police station entrance hall can be found in Zurich, Switzerland.
When Gustav Gull, the municipal architect of Zurich, was tasked with converting an orphanage into a building to house the city police station, he made an important decision. He chose to preserve the vaulted ceiling of the former cellar. In order to save space, he transformed this space into the entrance hall.
Despite the architectural splendor of the site, lighting conditions turned out to be an unanticipated problem. Enter Augusto Giacometti, a distant relation to the internationally famous Giacometti family of artists from Val Bregaglia. Subsequently accepting a commission from Gull, Giacometti took up the challenge to create a more vibrant environment within the Zurich site between 1923 and 1925,
Given his use of warm colors to create floral images, the result of Giacometti’s inspiration has become both a Zurich and a Swiss national treasure. The masterpiece, is today known to locals as the “Blüemlihalle” thanks to its majestic array of botanical depictions.
More on Giacometti
Augusto Giacometti is perhaps best known for the choral windows in the Grossmuster (1933) as well as the Fraumunster’s stained glass window (1945) but the police station is unique.
Located on Bahnhofquai in Zurich, the Flower Hall is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Of course, the other option to visit the hall after hours is to get yourself arrested.
Russia: Moscow Metro
Perhaps you were surprised by that police station in Zurich. It’s likewise a good bet you never thought a subway station would look and feel like an artistic and architectural museum. But it’s a bet you would lose. That’s particularly true if you’ve never seen the metro train stations in Moscow.
During the Depression, Russia’s Josef Stalin decided to impress the world with his country’s technology, industrialization and art by demonstrating the superiority of socialism.
For some reason, the Moscow metro became Stalin’s canvas. By incorporating elegant chandeliers, friezes, marble archways, bronze statues, stained glass windows and bas-reliefs into these structures, each metro station in Moscow became unique.
The earliest-constructed Moscow stations are perhaps the most ornate and eclectic. Perhaps we can attribute this to the intensity with which Stalin sought their completion. Among the artistic depictions are representations featuring particularly Soviet cultural themes such as sports, industry, agriculture, history and, of course, the Revolution.
Stalin called his Moscow stations “people’s palaces” due to their elaborate artistic and architectural designs. As the largest civilian construction project in the history of the USSR, the first 13 stations, which opened in 1935, are the primary locations to visit because of Stalin’s personal commitment.
Little known facts about the Moscow metro
Among the most beautiful, and perhaps the most famous, is Mayakovskaya station, which opened in 1938. Dedicated to the Russian poet Vladimir Maykovsky, it is one of the deepest stations in the city. The reason? It was also designed for use as a bomb shelter.
Believe it or not, another metro system, called Metro 2, was created beneath the one being used today as an escape route for high government officials in Moscow.
Later, once the project was halted, succeeding stations became more functional and traditional. So do not expect to see a “museum” at every Moscow metro stop.
Though many stations are magnificent, the rolling stock traveling through them can be quite old. So do not expect any of the stations, new or old, to be quiet.
By the way, the best time to ride without crowds is between noon and 2 p.m. Warning: Be alert for pick-pockets.
Florence: Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella
On a quiet street, far from the madding crowds in the center of Florence, Italy, a tiny piece of heaven nestles hidden among the myriad of buildings that line the avenue.
Even when translated, Officina Profumo, offers little description for non-Italian speaking travelers. That’s because the words “Office of Perfume” don’t even begin to do this Florence landmark justice.
Officina Profumo, is one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. It dates back to the year 1221. Founded by Dominican friars who began making herbal remedies and perfumes for their monastery nearly, it took 400 years for the pharmacy to gain international public recognition.
Thanks to the sponsorship of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1612, the world learned about Santa Maria Novella’s vast range of products. Even today its potpourri is not just popular in Florence. It’s also popular around the globe. One possible reason could be its unique packaging. The pharmacy continues to package this product in huge terra cotta vats. And it still uses traditional essences and plants that are the same as those used back in the 13th century.
Perfume is not just a fragrance
Like its name and its reputation, Officina Profumo must be sought after to be enjoyed. Even when you know the address at Via della Scala 16, it’s easy to walk past it if you are not observant. In fact, you may even be standing at the front door and not realize you are there.
Next, peer through the windows to view a long, dark corridor that gives the illusion of emptiness even when the pharmacy is open for business. Be bold. Enter and make your way down the dimly lit hallway that suddenly reveals itself into the Sistine Chapel of Perfume.
Clearly, each Officina Profumo product has a story, and there are many. The precious Acqua della Regina perfume, for example, was originally created for Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France in the 1500s. Known as “Water of the Queen”, Catherine made it popular throughout France.
The very first Eau de Cologne
Nearly 300 years later, it become the first “Eau de Cologne” in history when Giovanni Feminis took it, and the recipe, with him to Cologne, Germany and renamed it “Acqua di Cologne” in tribute to the city where it was produced.
But no matter. The original formula from the days of Catherine de Medici was preserved, and if you simply purchase a product called “Santa Maria Novella” you will be buying the pharmacy’s signature fragrance.
A genuine treasure of Florence, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is not to be rushed. You are surrounded by soaps, balms, medications, perfumes and aromas. All are magnificently displayed beneath Renaissance arches and frescoed ceilings. It is as if you have entered a pharmacy of the soul.
You see, Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella is proof positive that sometimes traveling just makes good “scents.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up