Stendahl Syndrome

I’ve written before about illnesses that are restricted to certain countries, like heavy legs in France.  But would it surprise you to know that there are some psychological conditions, like Stendahl Syndrome, that can affect people who travel to specific cities?

Florence – Stendhal Syndrome

This is the oldest, and perhaps best known example.  It’s named after the novelist Stendhal, who described his 1817 visit to Florence, and the Basilica di Santa Croce where among others Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli are buried.

“I was in a sort of ecstasy,” he wrote, ”from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen…I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves’. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”

Whilst the reality of Stendhal Syndrome is disputed, staff at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova still regularly see tourists suffering from dizziness, fainting, and confusion.  It’s thought that the areas of the brain that regulate emotion become over-excited by great art.

Personally, I have suffered a version of Stendhal Syndrome in Florence, but instead of great art it was seeing the bill for two Diet Cokes and ice-creams that caused my increased heart-rate and dizziness.

Jerusalem – Messiah Syndrome

Sometimes called the “Jerusalem Syndrome” this is a collection of phenomena which all centre around deep religious feelings, and lead to delusions and psychosis like experiences.  It’s notable because it affects people without any previous signs or diagnosis of mental illness and affects people of all religions equally.

Unsurprisingly it’s an older phenomena than Stendhal Syndrome, having been described in pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages.  It’s regularly seen today and treated in psychiatric units in Jerusalem, and is usually resolved when the person leaves Jerusalem and returns home. 

Perhaps the most famous (and fictional) sufferer of Messiah Syndrome was Homer Simpson in “The Greatest Story Ever Doh’d”, where he accompanies Ned Flanders on a trip to Jerusalem.

Paris – Paris Syndrome

This isn’t just place specific, but culture specific as well in that it only affects Japanese tourists.  They report feelings of persecution, disorientation, and anxiety, as well as symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting, and tachycardia.

Unlike Stendhal Syndrome the cause of this isn’t the great art in the Louvre.  Instead it’s the realisation that Paris fails to live up to the image they had of it.  Finding that Paris isn’t made up entirely of chic streets full of designer shops, and populated by beautifully dressed slim women prompts a profound sense of disappointment that leads to Paris Syndrome.

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