Tallinn – The oldest pharmacy in Europe

I wrote in my article about the old town of Tallinn that I would not describe one by one all the historical buildings that can be visited in the medieval part of the capital of Estonia. There are too many, I have not visited them all and these will probably be better described in a guide on Tallinn.

However, I make a small exception to talk about a rather unusual place in the old city. It is Raeapteek (the pharmacy of the city hall), a pharmacy reputed to be the oldest, still in operation, in Europe. The pharmacy would have been built around 1415 (!!) and would also be the oldest commercial enterprise in Tallinn.

Raeapteek Pharmacy
The entrance of Raeapteek

Among the interesting facts about the long history of this small pharmacy, note that it has been in the hands of the same family for more than 300 years … A Hungarian immigrant, Johann Burchart, obtained in 1582 the permission of the city of Tallinn to rent the premises and hold a pharmacy. He also started the family tradition of naming the firstborn of the family “Johann”, a tradition that has continued for several generations (there were altogether ten Johann Burchart pharmacists and owners of Raeapteek between 1582 and 1911).


The last Johann Burchart died at the end of the 19th century. His sisters eventually sold the business, ending the family dynasty. After the Second World War, during the Soviet occupation, the pharmacy was nationalized.

Raeapteek Pharmacy
More than 600 years later, Raeapteek is still open

The pharmacy now houses a small museum in which it is possible to see different products sold as medicines in medieval times. Interesting artifacts include a mummy hand (“mummy juice”, made of mummy powder mixed with liquid, was very popular at the time), and various unappetizing animal parts.

Raeapteek Pharmacy
I’m happy medicine has evolved

It is still possible to buy medicine at the counter in Raeapteek (my friend bought ibuprofen for her back pain). The pharmacy also sells products inspired by its long history, including bottles of claret, which it has never stopped selling since 1467 (and it’s still the same recipe that is used today!).

It is also, it seems, possible to take classes to be apothecary for a day, have claret or medicinal herbal teas tasting or learn how to make an herbarium. Raeapteek is an interesting stop, entertaining and unusual if you are visiting the old town of Tallinn!

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