What is the so called Florence Syndrome?
Finding yourself in front of Florence’s breathtaking masterpieces such as the David of Michelangelo or Botticelli’s Primavera or even stepping inside the stunning Chapel of the Princes in San Lorenzo, can cause some serious dizziness. But what if what you felt was more than simple dizziness and excitement? What if being in the presence of these exceptional works of art caused you more severe symptoms such as fainting, disorientation, sweating, rapid heartbeat and confusion? Well, it can actually happen. In fact, it is a condition called Stendhal Syndrome or also Florence Syndrome, a psychosomatic disorder caused by looking at artwork with which the viewer deeply emotionally connects.
In 1817, a French writer named Marie-Henri Beyle, who used the pseudonym Stendhal, described his experience visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, in his book Rome, Naples et Florence:
« I had reached that level of emotion where the celestial sensations of the arts and the passionate feelings meet. As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground. »
The Basilica is famous for the magnificent frescoes created by the Italian Renaissance artist Giotto, and it is also the burial place of many historical figures like Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo.
Apparently, Beyle felt so emotionally connected to the art and history that permeated the walls of the Florentine church, that he started feeling sick.
It turned out he wasn’t the only one who had this experience. Many visitors of Florence has suffered from similar symptoms over the years, so many in fact, that this condition became a case of study.
In 1989, Dr. Graziella Magherini, Chief of Psychiatry at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, after observing more than 100 tourists who had been hospitalized after seeing the masterpieces for which the city is renewed worldwide, published a book called La Sindrome di Stendhal, describing these clinical cases. She explained that victims of this condition are typically solo travelers between 26 and 40 years old, sometimes suffering from jet lag and who had tried to squeeze too much sightseeing in just a few days. They had, she described, "overdosed" on art.
Sometimes beauty is just too much to bear, especially if you want to take it all in in a rush. And Florence has so much beauty to offer, to make an entire nation “sick”.
Other Stendhal Syndrome cases have occurred in other Italian cities, but apparently Florence is the place where the victims have been more affected.
In 1996, Italian filmmaker Dario Argento directed the horror movie entitled Stendhal Syndrome, about a girl that falls victim of this syndrome in front of front of the Fall of Icarus by Bruegel at the Uffizi Gallery, and she is later kidnapped by a serial killer.
The movie is inspired by the director’s own experience with Stendhal Syndrome as a child while visiting the Parthenon in Rome.
Hundreds of cases have been recorded of tourists being affected by Florence’s Syndrome in front of Michelangelo’s David, Caravaggio’s Bacchus or Botticelli’s Venus, and curiously enough, Dr. Magherini noted that more than half of the victims come from Northern European countries. Italians, who grew up surrounded by art are immune, and apparently, so are Japanese.
Well now, you have been warned: if you want to visit Florence, you will have to take your risks!