Next time you take a visit to Madrid I suggest that you visit an unusual museum – the Museo De Famacia Militar at Calle Embajadores, 75. This little known museum contains a wonderful collection of military materials all related to medicine.
The museum was founded in 1928 with the aim of gathering materials from various military facilities involved in the research and fabrication of medications. The building itself dates from 1915 and was commissioned by the Spanish Army to house the central laboratory for the military health service. The construction was directed by the military engineer Pascual Fernández Aceituno.
In one of the rooms you will find the iatrochemical laboratory (iatrochemistry was a school of medical thought which attempted to explain physiological mechanisms through chemical reactions, which was installed more than 300 years ago in the cellar of the Royal Pharmacy and transferred here fore display.
In the laboratory, and at the express request of the Spanish king, attempts were made to obtain medications by alchemy. As Spain had no specialists in the field of iatrochemistry, in 1693 King Charles followed the advice of his viceroy in Naples who sent him Vito Cotaldo, a prestigious Italian pharmacist, so that the latter could carry out experiments on preparations that he would subsequently prescribe to the king’s troops.
In the other rooms of the museum, you can see items retracing the evolution of scientific used by military pharmacists. There are machines that turned out pills and suppositories, a laboratory from the 1940s with a near complete collection of test tubes, scales and ovens from the period. The case which contains drugs derived from plants and animals is extraordinary: in all, there are over 400 varieties of psychotropic substances, most of them originating in former Spanish colonies.
So, whilst a museum of military pharmacology may not be in your ‘bucket list’ of things to see in Madrid, do yourself a favour and see this one. It is fascinating and well worth the visit.
(Adapted from Secret Madrid by Véronica Muro, published by JonGlez)