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An old chemist’s shop ‘on the small steps’

If you feel like visiting this smallish, but a chemist’s shop with a particular historic significance, you have to visit the town of Vršac, which is located in Banat, Serbia in close proximity to the border with Romania.

This two and a half centuries old chemist’s shop is within easy reach and easy to find because it is located near the city center. The locals seem to be very proud of this unique old building and they are very prone to tell intriguing tales about it.

This little chemist's shop is at the corner of Kumanovska Street and Stevan Nemanja Street and it is on the best represented oldest edifices of the old Vršac , the first chemist's shop ever there, a monument of culture of high importance.

The town of Vršac used to be under Austro-Hungarian rule and that seems to be the main reason why it is somewhat different from the rest of Serbia ( apart from Vojvodina). Shall we go back to the 18th century when ‘this small chemist’s shop on the steps’ was built. It was founded in 1784 but its first name was the chemist’s shop by the Saviour( i.e. Apoteka kod Spasitelja) or the Chemist's shop by Salvador). The steps by which one enters was attached at a later date right by the facade to its west side , built in the Baroque style, for which the steps were not a common feature at all. Before the steps were built , the building was entered into from the opposite side, via the other street but its owner y the chemist would go into the shop from his flat to serve his customers. It used to operate as the City pharmacy up until 1971, when it was handed over to the city authorities and then it was passed on to the Museum to function as the affiliate attachment of the City Museum of Vršac.

Its original owners were the locals of German descent i.e the Germans born in Vršac , the ancestors if whose came here at the time of Marija Terezija in 1718.

The last owner of the oldest pharmacy in Serbia was Aleksandar Jovanović. The surname Jovanović gained popularity in the town of Vršac thanks to Paja Jovanović – a renowned painter. Aleksandar is Paja’s step brother. He bought the shop in 1927, when he arrived back from Budapest, where he also used to run a pharmacy business and this chemist’s shop used to belong to him until 1971. In that year the chemist’s shop got to be formally integrated within the Town Museum and turned into a continual exhibition.

Up until 1971, the chemist’s shop served two main purposes: a market and a house for workers. Now, as part of the town museum there are only two permanent exhibitions: 1) History of healthcare in the city of Vršac – this exhibition is located inside the chemist’s shop and the visitors can see and learn a lot about history of this town, old medicines, etc there 2) It stands there in silent testimony of the passage of time and surely in memory of Paja Jovanovic – this exhibition is located in the main building of the town museum where the visitors can see Paja’s remarkable Triptihon. It might be interesting to know that there are rooms with stuffed animals inside the chemist’s shop , which are there on display for visitors to see. Mind you , they are not there to take them home with us :)

The natural history collection - the representational parts of the geologic - paleontologic and zoologic collection are on display here.The former was gathered by Rudolf Mileker from South and mid Banat and the south part of the Banat region in Romania. A smaller part of the minerals originates from the mine in Resica. Paleontological material consists of a number of mammoth bones ( from its lower jaws) and a few hundreds fossils of paleo flora and fauna.

The zoological collection is represented by mammals and birds. The mammals collection is considerably smaller , but with representative specimens. These represent typical fauna from south Banat. In European terms, it is not well known that in this small locale two somewhat bigger populations of wolves live there ( canis lupus). Both locations are famous for its specificities ( the Vršac mountains and the Deliblato sands) The collection is represented by a few dozens specimens, that is 11 species (a wolf, a wildcat, a skunk, pine marten, a badger, a lesser blind mole-rat etc.

The ornithological collection amounts to as many as 175 perfectly preserved specimens of stuffed birds, which is about 107 bird species. It is almost a century old , used now as a comparative material. It was made between 1906 and 1911 , which was added to a liitle between the two world wars. It comprises rare bird species which cannot be found in this region any more such as : griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), griffon vulture (Aegiypius monachus), white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), griffon eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus), steppe falcon (Falco cherrug), the Ural owl ( Strix uralensis), bullfinch (Bubo bubo), great bustard (Otis tarda) and many others. Superb experts in ornithology and stuffed animals worked on it.

Smallish but peculiar and unique front steps, the visitors can see from afar are the landmark features of this chemist’s shop. Chemists' shops tend to be built on the ground as a bungalow type of a building, so that the elderly or the disabled can easily buy medicines and that is the reason why these steps are so unique. The steps are still there in front of the first chemist’s shop in this town ever and visitors wait in the queue on those outdoor steps when they want to see what the chemist’s shop looks like inside. The anteroom so called 'oficina' , the then chemist shop, has preserved its authenticity from that time : the till , the scales , the doorbell, the 'stojnice' i.e. old time ceramics and glass vials where the chemicals were kept and shelved, complete inventory from the second half of the 20th century.

Continual exhibits on display inside the chemist's shop

The art of pharmacy from the plant to the pill"

The exhibition in a few units presents the process of creation of medicins from the beginning of the sales to its sales in the 'officina'. In the first part of the exhibition the sales section is shown. A number of different products from this chemist's shop are presented , which used to be made by hand mainly and based on natural ingredients. The laboratory is in the third section where the laboratory equipment and production equipment are displayed. In the adjoining section the replica of the working room of a pharmacist. The semi-attic is its last exhibition unit , which used to be used for drying, classifying, crumbling, and the overall preparation of the raw materials for production.

The stojnice made of ceramics, manual pharmacist scales , the big stojnice i.e. the old fashioned ceramics and glass vials for powder substances with original classifying notes from the year 1870, packaging for pills and tablets , original recipes of the then owners and the receipts forms from that time are of great importance.

A warmest welcome from the museum employees and from those in the chemist’s shop is one of the reasons why you should visit both buildings. Moreover, curators inside the museum are very professional with superb expertise in art (particularly about Paja Jovanovic`s art) and other famous and important figure from this town. The museum holds exhibitions about prehistory, the Middle Ages , modern art, etc.

Such a small town, but so much to offer! This city is also well known for Guduručki vrh which translates as the top or the peak) which is the highest peak of Vršac Mountain and the highest peak in the whole of Vojvodina. On the way to the top, you can take a break at the old castle and enjoy the townscape of Vršac. So you had better pack your bags and visit the town of Vršac!

collated , adapted and written by Marija B, a university student of tourism and hospitality industry at University of Belgrade, Serbia and Nataša J ( Serbian for foreigners course tutor and a translator).

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