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The Town Council’s Pharmacy ( Maria Martin )

The Town Council’s Pharmacy is the oldest medical establishment in Tallinn and it is among the oldest pharmacies in Europe that has worked on the same premises since the early 15th century. It was first recorded in 1422, but it might have opened seven years earlier.

Besides medicine, the paharmacy sold all sorts of different products in the Middle Ages. One could buy sweets, preserves, marzipan and cookies. Spicy cookies called “morsells” were a speciality; they were very good with claret – locally sugared and spiced Rhine-wine. Later the chemist acquired the privilege to import annually around 400 liters of French cognac tax-free. The paharmecy sold stationery paper, ink, sealing-wax, dies, gunpowder, pellets, spices, candles and torches. When tobacco was brought to Europe and eventually to Estonia, the Town Council’s Pharmacy started to sell it first.

As far as medicine was concerned, there were a few miracle drugs on sale, like unicorn’s horn powder, the powder made of oversea mummies, the powder made of burnt hedgehogs, eartworms or swallow’s nest. On the other hand, one could find medicine, thet we still use and approve of, like various herbs and spirits, distilled at the spot.

A 17th century coat-of-arms, the emblem of the Burchart family, can be seen on the wall of the hall. Although there were several tenants who rented the paharmacy from the Tpwn Council between 1422-1583, the Burcharts deserve more notice than anybody else.

Johann Burchart Belavary de Sykava came from Hungary in 1580. In 1583, he leased the pharmacy and so did his heirs until Johann Burchart IV bought the pharmacy from the Town Council between anda became the owner. The first son and therefore the heir, was called Johann in the Burchart’s family; it has given reason to talk about the family as a kind of a royal dynasty in the local history of Tallinn. The Burcharts were well educated, very often not only pharmacists but also doctors, and they played a significant role in the life of the town. Johann Burchart III, for example, was eleced the Elder of the Great Guild, a post of great responsibility and honour at that time.

Johann Burchart V started his career in the terrible year of the plague in 1710. When Tallinn capitulated to the Russian army, he was one of the first to understand on which side his bread was buttered, and he started to provide the army with medicine. In 1716, he Became the town doctor and also the doctor of the garrison and the naval hospital. He was a man of great authority. According to the legend, he was even called to the death bed of Peter I in 1725, but the Tsar died before the doctor reached St. Petersburg.

The next Burchart was also a doctor and so were his son and grandson. Johann Burchart VIII played a significant role in the cultural life of the town. In 1802, he established a private museum of local life and curiosities calling it Mon faible. Several items from his collection are now displayed in the Estonian History Museum. In 1802, he orgonized the first art exhibition in Tallinn. His son and grandson were men of ill health, who could not supervise the pharmacy and it was leased out again. In 1911, last four Burcharts, the sisters of Johann X, sold the property to C.R. Lehber. With this bill of sale ended the connection between Burcharts and the Town Council’s Pharmacy.

Today, bat powder and snakeskin potion are no longer available in the Town Hall Pharmacy. But you can still try the fine medieval claret.