"Stendhal syndrome", or "Florence syndrome", is the name given to the condition of being overwhelmed emotionally when confronted with great beauty, particularly art. The 19th century French writer first described it after visiting Florence in 1817.
Florence – Fact Check

Can you resist catching Stendhal Syndrome in Florence?

Photo by Ruben Drenth

Florence – Fact Check Can you resist catching Stendhal Syndrome in Florence?

Standing in the shadow of the Duomo, all green marble and overwhelming angles, I wonder just how easy it would be to succumb to Stendhal Syndrome: a disease first discovered in Florence.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

In 1817, French writer Stendhal embarked on his traditional Grand Tour to Florence, only to experience such an overwhelming sense of vertigo at the site of so much art and fine architecture that he almost passed out: “in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul..I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves’. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling”

Since then, hundreds if not thousands of tourists have experienced the same psychosomatic response to Florence: so much so that staff at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital are trained to deal with incoming cases of tourists overwhelmed by so much art.

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Battistero di San Giovanni, seen here from the Duomo, is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating to 1128 when Italian poet Dante was baptized in it. Its octagonal shape is a reference to the early Christian tradition that Christ will arise on the eighth day. Photo by Stephan Stockinger / Alamy

Stephan Stockinger

Stephan Stockinger

Agency
Alamy

Battistero di San Giovanni, seen here from the Duomo, is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating to 1128 when Italian poet Dante was baptized in it. Its octagonal shape is a reference to the early Christian tradition that Christ will arise on the eighth day.

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Tourism may be a mainstay of Florence’s economy but it also has a thriving industrial sector based on its history of craftsmanship. Italy’s fashion industry relies on the city for the production of goods such as leather, including shoes, as well as jewelry, embroidery, textiles, ceramics and metalwork.

Peek over the walls and you'll see the real Florence

“Rome is a whore,” says Giambaccio, a ploud Florence native. It has just gone midnight, and we have wandered through the moonstruck streets around Florence’s Piazza San Spirito for hours before winding up here: in a haphazardly cluttered art studio Giambaccio has modeled on a ship’s deck. “She opens her legs for everybody. But Florence...” He mimes chastity – the shutting of two knees – with his fingers. “We are a walled city. We are closed.”