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The First Pharmacy in a Mountain Region of Banat

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Many popular national and European premiers have been hosted in the Oraviţa habitat, the old administrative-economic centre of the mountain area of Banat. Among these we consider the following to have been the most popular: the first theatre in present-day Romania; the first railroad of the present-day Romanian rail system (Oraviţa – Baziaş); and the first mountain railway train station (Oraviţa-Anina). To these we can now add the first pharmacy in a mountainous area, founded in the 18th century, which mainly served miners, but also locals.

We learned the story of this pharmacy from Prof. Dr. Ionel Bota, the director of the Old Mihai Eminescu Theatre in Oraviţa; Prof. Bota is one of few people still preoccupied with the conservation and promotion of the local heritage. Due to the efforts of a group of two doctors and a pharmacist, including Prof. Bota, a part of the pharmacy building was reinstituted in 1993 by the last descendant of the Knoblauch family and transformed into a museum of pharmaceutical history, a function it retains today.

From “hand pharmacy” to the first pharmacy in a mountain region of Banat and in the current Romanian territory

The first pharmacy in a mountainous area was a Bruderlade (association of fraternal aid) pharmacy in the area of Oraviţa, which was documented through a payment at a local bank. The “hand pharmacy” of Eduard Winter originally functioned in an old building located at No. 337 (today assigned historic monument coordinates 11-B-248 in the 1993 registry). He would bring medicines from Vienna and Pesta, and would distribute them in the four mountain districts: Sasca Montană, Dognecea-Bocşa, Oraviţa, and Moldova Nouă.1)Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007

“The first documented mention dates from 1763, but logic tells us that no documentation represents the time when the building was first constructed. The logic of history actually tells us that in the German-speaking communities in which these Bruderlade functioned, the rules of these associations stated that members were obliged to contribute to a pharmacist. Therefore, a hand pharmacy (not one that would have the right to prepare medicine) has existed since 1721. This is also when the first Bruderlade association was mentioned,” says Prof. Bota.

In 1780, the pharmacy was also known in Vienna, from which medicine was requested even for the imperial house. “Medicines were also produced in Vienna, but the problem was not related to the similar names, but, in this case, to the soil in which the plants used in the recipes were grown. The Oraviţa soil was of much better quality for growing mint, for example.”

Until the 1790s, the pharmacies of the Cameral Banat included “At Black Eagle” (1735) and “Misericordianul” (1737) in Timisoara, as well as “Vojtech” (1763) in Arad. In 1790, Johannes Lederer, a true pharmacist who already had the right to prepare medicine in a lab, solicited the Mining Department for a headquarters in which to arrange a Berg Apotheke building to serve the Bruderlade.

A document written on 20 August 1790 mentions the existence of a pharmaceutical point that would provide all four mountain districts with medicine. In another document, dated 21 October 1790, Johannes Lederer solicited the Mining Department for financial aid in the amount of 150 florins. The property contract between Lederer and the Mining Department was concluded on 19 October 1796, the date when the pharmacy started its activity in that building, the first organised pharmacy activity in the mountains of the Banat region and, indeed, in all of the present-day Romanian territory.2)Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007

Johannes Lederer was a campaign pharmacist in the Banato-Ilir (German-Serbian) battalion, which had its headquarters at the White Church, and which was present in the Battle of Arcole (1796). “The platoon that was defending the bridge from the third attack by the French also had this pharmacist with it. His first-aid kit is displayed in the Oraviţa pharmacy, ” says Prof. Bota.

In 1818, being seriously ill, Johannes Lederer started to negotiate the sale of the pharmacy with the Knoblauch family. (It is very possible that the first member of the pharmacist “dynasty” from Oraviţa may have worked in his unit.) Lederer died on 30 January 1819, but the transaction between his widow and Karl (Karol) Knoblauch was sealed on 1 September 1820 (from citations in Karl’s professional biography, we learn that the pharmacy was actually rented to the family of the old owner to whom the sum of 11,000 florins was to be paid).3)Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007

According to Prof. Bota, “from that moment, the dynasty of this family begins, lasting until the Communist nationalisation of the pharmacy on 11 June 1948. Knoblauch, when translated, can mean garlic; therefore, the family coat of arms, which was approved with full rights by the Emperor Maximilian I in 1486, depicts garlic. This family came down from a district in the South of Switzerland. Even today, its members are divided between two fields of work: some work in medicine and pharmacies, just like their ancestors from Oraviţa, while the others work at publishing houses, newspapers, or typographies.”

The Knoblauch Dinasty4)Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007

Karl Knoblauch (28 January 1797, Resita – 1869, Oraviţa), the founder of the pharmacy dynasty, was the son of the engineer Augustin Filip Knoblauch, the director of the furnaces and afterwards of the monetarie in the mountain region of Ciclova, and one of the wealthiest men in the area.

Karl studied medicine at the University of Vienna, where he obtained his diploma of Absolutorium in 1818. Besides his business in the pharmaceutical sector, Karl also coordinated the Mountain Health Service, an institution that had functioned in Timisoara since 1721. At the first signs of a cholera epidemic, Karl intervened with the Mining Department in order for the medic Gheorghe Roja, a Macedo-Romanian, to be brought to Oraviţa.

In order for Roja to work in Oraviţa, Knoblauch paid for the cost of the transfer to the Vienna minister’s office from his personal funds. Between 1836 and 1838, Roja worked here applying the theoretical results of his doctorate thesis, “De luxu in medicaments egus pontibus et donna.” In 1838, Karl Knoblauch and Gheorghe Roja prepared a smallpox vaccine, which they successfully administered to a boy from Ilidia on the 22nd of July.

In 1842, the pharmacist intervened again in order for the medic and poet Friedrich Bach, Lenau’s friend, to come to Oraviţa. During a debate over “the nationality laws” in 1853, he advocated building agricultural middle schools along with Sigismund Popovici and A. Vlad. He proposed trying a rural school model at Vrani, where the Knoblauch family owned land.

Furthermore, Karl Knoblauch collaborated with Pavel Vasici in order to analyse the thermal mineral waters at Ciclova Mountain, supported the relaunch of a beer brewery, manifested his wish for a psychiatric establishment in the area, and helped the academic painter Richard Peuchta with a scholarship.

Karl’s son, Augustin Knoblauch, also a pharmacist, was the president of the Sanitary Council of Oraviţa and a member of both the Sanitary County Committee and the Health County Council. One of his regular clients was the Military Command Hospital in Graz, which was looking for plants with curative qualities from the Banat area.

Between the years 1880 and 1882, Augustin had an important relationship with the famous Rotterdam company Richter, which transported saltpeter, glycerin, sulphur, and nitrate from the New World to Europe and supplied an important pharmacy network throughout the continent.

Augustin continued his father’s mission in the Cadastral Commission of Banat, collaborating with Pavel Vasici in the “Agriculture Reunion of Timisoara.” He also financed an outlet market in a Vienna suburb for the locals of the Caras villages, especially for those of Vrani, so they could sell cattle there.

Being interested in agriculture and zootechnics, Augustin collaborated with the savant Schütz (who discovered the glanders bacillus [along with Loeffer]), with Heaspe (who experimented with artificial insemination in goats [1879]), and with the researcher Hoffmann from Stuttgart (who perfected artificial insemination equipment [1905-1907]).

Maximilian – Max, Miksa – Knoblauch (12 May 1860 – 1942), son of Augustin, obtained his degree in pharmacy in 1883 and worked alongside his father until 1910, when he took over the pharmacy business in Oraviţa. He won a Gold Medal for his pharmacy and his cosmetic products at the International Exhibition of Paris and at the International Exhibition of Rome.

Max continued his family’s tradition of agriculture and livestock work: in 1895, he was an ordinary and correspondent member of the Natural Science Society, a consultant to the Agriculture Ministry of Budapest, and a member of the County Commission for Agricultural Statistics. In 1932, when Romania was unified, he became a member of the Chamber of Agriculture Bureau of Caras.

In 1912, Max collaborated with Carre in the study of contagious agalactia (lactation failure) in sheep. In 1923, the pharmacist from Oraviţa collaborated with Donatien and Bride, who discovered the agalactia microbe. Also, he tried to introduce cultures of Tisa and Odvos wheat to Oraviţa, as well as the cultivation of cotton, Italian corn, “cinguatin” corn, and “Canadian” corn.

Always a passionate farmer, Max was the first to bring the Berkshire and Yorkshire pig breeds into the Caras area. In order to create new qualities of wool, he crossed Batca sheep with Merinos rams. After obtaining his Excellence Degree at the Agriculture Exhibit in Lugoj in 1924, he received first prize and a special degree at the Country Agriculture Exhibition in Cacova for raising Berkshire pigs.

Between the years 1937 and 1942, the Oraviţa Pharmacy was led by Artur Knoblauch. The pharmacy continued until April 1949 under the last Knoblauch pharmacist to be named Augustin. “The last pharmacist, the last one with this profession, was left alone by the Communists and retired in 1954. His last descendant died in 1997. This last descendant provided us with the family’s papers and helped with the building (in order to transform it into a museum). But, he died without knowing that, despite his paperwork, well kept and all legal, we did not obtain the entire building, because conflicts due to partitioning arose in 1976,” said Prof. Bota.

Prof. Bota also told us that the Knoblauch family is on the list of founders of the Old Theatre and High School of Oraviţa, and that, every year around the 15th of August, all the living members of the Knoblauch name gather in a pre-determined location in a certain city in Europe, where a small celebration is organised. In 2006, they also came to Oraviţa. “<<They invaded>> the city streets one Sunday—the people in the old neighbourhood didn’t know what was going on, that they were the descendants of the Knoblauch family.”

Based on the pharmacy documents, medicinal sociology studies can be conducted, in order to find out which were the most frequent diseases of the past centuries.

Today, the pharmacy is a part of the Caras Valley Historic Culture Museum of Oraviţa, and of the Old Mihai Eminescu Theatre Cultural Centre, having the independent name of The Historical Pharmacy Museum of the Banat mountain area, which was founded in 1993. The building that hosts the museum was declared a historic monument with the code LMI CS-II-m-B-11140.5)Lista monumentelor istorice din judeţul Caraş-SeverinWikipedia

The protecting gods of this field of medicine are depicted on the face of the building, but, according to Prof. Bota, these portraits are actually allegorical representations of Sissi and Franz Josef. In any case, the original models, made of metal, can be seen inside the museum: “When we founded the museum in 1993, we wondered if [the models] should stand out in the street, and so we made other models out of gypsum. That’s why, on the outside of the building, their positions are switched. Otherwise, we would never find them today around here. Being made out of metal, they would have already been stolen.”

The oldest representation of the pharmacy building in Oraviţa dates back to 1838, in an engraving created by Richard Peuchta (Puchta), “academicus painter.”

On 16 February 1855, the official logo of the pharmacy took the name “At the Black Eagle” (“Zum Schwarzen Adler/ Fekete Sas”), contrasting with the plaque on the building on which the year 1796 is marked. “The pharmacy is older than 1796. The building plaque was just placed there in a hurry by the mayor. When he found out that we already were a group that wanted to save the pharmacy and turn it into a museum, he didn’t consult with anyone, and, wanting to flatter us, he ordered this memorial plaque with multiple errors. For example, the Knoblauch family has no connection with the year 1796—that was when the Lederer pharmacist was here; before then, it was run by Winter. The Knoblauch family owned all the activities of the pharmacy starting in 1819-1820. The name “At the Black Eagle” entered use after the STeG (Staats Eisenbahn Gesellschaft/Caesar, a privileged society of the Craiasca Austrian State Railways) was founded,” says Prof. Bota.

In the Historical Pharmacy Museum, pieces of furniture, pharmaceutical instruments, recipes, and addresses can be admired. “Based on the documents recovered from the pharmacy, medical sociology studies can be conducted in order to find out the most common diseases of the past centuries.” The register, still functional, is 110 years old, and it was brought from Ohio through the Vienna-Budapest branch and the smaller branch of of an American firm, Hermannstadt, in Sibiu.

Out of the original furniture, only a clock remains. “The Knoblauch family’s obligation, which created a dynasty of pharmacists here, was that one of the descendants, necessarily a boy, should study medicine and pharmacies. If it was a girl, she should have married a pharmacist. There was one time, in 1887, that one of the girls, the niece of Karl Knoblauch and the daughter of Maximilian, was determined to marry the son of the pharmacist Kornyei, from Steierdorf. The groom came with new furniture, and out of the old furniture, which was divided among the Oraviţa relatives of the family, only a clock was left, which was kept on the central armoire,” said Prof. Bota.

Useful Information

You can get from Timisoara to Oraviţa on the DN59/E70 and DN57 (see map) or on the DJ572 (see map). The Historical Pharmacy Museum is on the street of 1 December 1918, at No. 17 (see map).

Because of the valuable collection which the museum hosts, and because of a lack of personnel at the Old Mihai Eminescu Theatre (whose responsibilities include the old pharmacy), the museum can usually only be visited by appointment at the number (+4)0761.118.067. So, we recommend that you make contact with the employees of the Old Mihai Eminescu Theatre in Oraviţa or even with Ionel Bota (whom you can find at the theatre).

From Oraviţa, you can travel on the lovely Oraviţa-Anina railroad. The Tower on the Hill of Grădinari is only 13 km away.

We owe our thanks to Ionel Bota for the information given and the help offered in presenting this material!

Written by Alexandra Palconi

Translated by Doinița Spuză & edited by Jeffrey Giering

Photo: Flavius Neamciuc


1 Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007
2 Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007
3 Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007
4 Ionel Bota – Medicină şi societate în Banatul Montan. Oraviţa şi Valea Caraşului în perioada 1700-1950, Editura TIM, Reşiţa, 2007
5 Lista monumentelor istorice din judeţul Caraş-SeverinWikipedia
1 comment at "The First Pharmacy in a Mountain Region of Banat"
  • The Old Mihai Eminescu Theatre in Oraviţa – Prin Banat
    9 October 2017 at 01:08

    […] the first pharmacy established in a mountainous region of Romania, which has been transformed into the Museum of Mountain Pharmacy History, and can be reached by means of the gorgeous Oraviţa-Anina railway. The Tower upon the Hill of […]

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