What is and what is Stendhal syndrome?

There are many environments full of artistic wealth that tourists and visitors want to admire and enjoy on their travels. On these tours, there are people who present characteristic ailments that have attracted the attention of both the medical community and groups with tourist or artistic interests from around the world. This psychosomatic condition it has begun to be reported and described as early as the last decades of the last century. Among the observed symptoms are mentioned: tremors, tachycardia, fatigue, sweating, dizziness and even fainting.

When do these symptoms appear? They are usually shown when visitors are in places where they can see a high concentration of works of art, palaces, museums, galleries or places where events of great cultural relevance have occurred. Especially in very sensitive travelers, who travel with the exclusive purpose of contemplating a work of art or an exhibition of an artist for whom they feel deep admiration.

The set of symptoms shown by those affected by this condition has been called Stendhal syndrome, in honor of the famous French writer, better known by his pseudonym Stendhal. In the 19th century, specifically on January 22, 1817, Henry-Marie Beyle (1783-1842) or Stendhal, was in Italy visiting various towns. His experiences, when visiting places where a large number of artistic pieces of extraordinary beauty are concentrated, triggered the symptoms of this disease in his mood.

Stendhal syndrome was first described in Florence, Italy

After a long journey, the famous French writer was in the streets of Florence fascinated by the facades, frescoes, sculptures and domes, when he began to experience poor health. Just, when leaving the Basilica of Santa Croce, he said he felt emotion for the Fine Arts, with “heavenly sensations”. In this state of mind he could feel the beating of his heart, a feeling of exhaustion from his life and fear of falling. While sweating and feeling dizzy, he had to sit down to calm down and reflect. Because of this health condition, he sought medical attention and after being examined, the doctor explained that he was suffering from an overdose, but of beauty.

This is how he describes it in the book he published later, entitled “Naples and Florence: A trip from Milan to Reggio.” This is considered the first historical reference to Stendhal syndrome, and is the reason why it is also called Florence syndrome. Other names with which it is known are: bad or stress of the traveler or also, bad of the museums.

Being in the presence of a group of works of art for a short time in the same place can disturb the mood of sensitive people, when their senses are overloaded. After all, extraordinary emotional reactions can also be shown while enjoying a concert, as you can feel, for example, your skin bristling with a song. But also, when watching a movie where altruistic values ​​or deep passions are exalted, you cannot stop crying or in those of horror you feel your pulse racing.

What does it consist of? In 1979, Magherini defined the syndrome for the first time

Two hundred years after Stendhal described the symptoms he suffered in Florence, in the late 70’s the Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini defined it as Stendhal syndrome. This academic from the University of Florence gathered documentation of more than one hundred cases with similar symptoms, among tourists and foreign visitors of Florentine art. All this work was compiled during two decades of work at the Hospital de Santa María Nuova in Florence.

The syndrome consists of a picture of symptoms of a psychosomatic nature (given its mind-body relationship), produced by the saturation of the senses in the contemplation of beauty for a short time. After all, from the point of view of the famous psychologist Carl Jung and analytical psychology, “the symptom can be a creative expression of the psyche.”

Today, Stendhal syndrome is recognized as a psychosomatic condition in clinical psychology. However, there are those who oppose this categorization and, instead, consider it the work of suggestion since, in most cases, the symptoms are mild. More than overexposure to beauty, they accuse that there are other causes of discomfort. They point out that these symptoms can also occur due to hunger, the temperature of the place, jet lag (jet lag of travelers), fatigue or dehydration of tourists.

Other critics point out that the popularization of tourism has taken advantage of the spread of Stendhal syndrome based on exaggerated diagnoses. All this in order to generate publicity towards artistic sites and, thus, attract more travelers. According to this theory, if the reported cases of Florence syndrome increase, the artistic prestige of the place and the work will also increase. They express that the interest in this condition is more economic than scientific.

Despite the doubts, today the majority of the scientific community considers it a pathology and fewer see it as the result of suggestion. In addition, it must be clarified that Stendhal syndrome is not considered a mental disorder. It is a temporary condition that occurs in people of great sensitivity, admirers of works of art and settings of great beauty, full of historical-cultural significance.

What are the symptoms of Stendhal syndrome?

The main symptoms of this transient syndrome are the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Suffocation
  • Extreme emotions of pleasure, joy, or sadness
  • Dizziness and blurred vision
  • In severe cases it can cause panic attacks, amnesia, delusions or hallucinations, fainting and depression.

Although this syndrome can affect anyone, it is more common among tourists who come to admire works of art for their beauty, as these pieces represent a powerful emotional investment for them. So, even if those who suffer from it are accused of being predisposed to suffer from Stendhal syndrome, it is a reality and those who suffer from it may require medical attention.

Also know what cyclothymia is.

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