Opposite the town hall in the city of Tallinn, Estonia, the Raeapteek is considered the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe, as well as the oldest commercial establishment in the city. According to the earliest records available, it had already had its third owner by 1422, meaning it had opened years prior.
Back in the Middle Ages, the pharmacy sold a wide variety of medicine and potions. Its offerings included mummy juice, burnt bees, earthworms, snakeskin, and even unicorn horn powder, not to mention sundry kinds of herbs and alcohol. Townsfolk came to Raeapteek not only to buy medicine, but also to seek out treatment advice and spiritual assistance.
It was also where people gathered to chat over a cup of tea or a glass of claret, hearing news and passing them on to others, similar to today’s cafés. It is reported that important meetings of the town were often held here, too. Many other goods became available in later years, such as candy, marzipan, tobacco, ink, playing cards, gunpowder, salt, and spices.
A Hungarian immigrant named Johann Burchart took over the pharmacy in 1582. Over 10 generations of his family ran the business until 1911. By the early 18th century, the family’s fame grew so great that Tsar Peter the Great is said to have called for Johann Burchart V to attend to him on his deathbed—though he passed before Burchart made it to the Russian capital.
Today, the Raeapteek sells modern medicine on its first floor, as well as claret and marzipan, while running a small museum of historical medical instruments and other curiosities.
Know Before You Go
The pharmacy is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., every day except Sundays.