Florence makes my heart beat fast.
For reasons which I’ve never fully understood, I feel actual love for this city, cradle of the Renaissance. I can’t get enough of it when I’m there; I ache for it when I’m gone.
When in Florence, I rise with the sun and wander the streets just for the thrill of watching the city wake up.
I stay out all day, or as much as humanly possible in the sweltering summer heat and oppressing crowds. I visit the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore over and over again, many times a day. I go out of my way, while on my way to somewhere else, just to say hello to the Duomo. I wish I could wrap my arms around it and give it a hug. I take hundreds of pictures of the Duomo to add to my collection entitled “hundreds of pictures of the Duomo.” I catch every single sunset, preferably within sight of the Ponte Vecchio. I drink wine for dinner and wander the streets some more, thrilled all over again to see the city, brilliant and breathtaking, in her evening light.
“Florence is one of my greatest loves. Loving a city is like loving a person: I was initially attracted to Florence’s beauty, I enjoy so many of her qualities, I accept my beloved city as she is, and I love how she makes me feel when I am in her embrace. I didn’t choose to love Florence by checking items off of a list, but rather by feeling her love inside of me. While I am attracted to Florence’s exterior, it is her interior that I fell in love with. Her heart, her soul, and her vibrant energy influence me every day.” – (Melinda Gallo)
As much as I love her, in Florence I often feel overwhelmed. I am bewildered and frustrated by my feelings for her; confused at how I, simple American mom and wife, can have the opportunity first to be in this exquisite city and also to walk the same cobbled streets as Michelangelo, Mona Lisa, the Medicis, Leonardo, Galileo.
I feel smothered by her beauty. Alas, I do not suffer alone.
“I was 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. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart…Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.” — French writer Stendhal, 1817
In 1979, after observing more than 100 cases of visitors to Florence who suffered from dizziness and fainting after viewing Florentine art, Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini identified this as the Stendhal Syndrome.
“Stendhal syndrome [or Florence syndrome] is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art. Although psychiatrists have long debated whether it really exists, its effects on some sufferers are serious enough for them to require treatment in hospital and even antidepressants. The staff at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to dealing with tourists suffering from dizzy spells and disorientation after admiring the statue of David, the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery and other treasures of the Tuscan city.” (Wikipedia)
Not surprisingly, Magherini practices at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital, the oldest ospedale in Firenze, just a five-minute walk from the Duomo.
Prolific Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio, who briefly hosted a young Michelangelo in his Florentine workshop, described an opposite ailment. “Ghirlandaio so loved his hometown that he complained of a longing he called ‘Duomo Sickness’ whenever he left it.” (from Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales)
Indeed, I suffer too from Duomo sickness.
There’s the simple beauty at the turn of any given corner, dappled light falling on cobblestones and bathing saffron or pumpkin colored walls; stately light fixtures and iron rings, once used to tether horses, affixed to still proud stone exteriors.
This gorgeous little alley is nestled very near the Uffizi Gallery…
…while at Caffè Gilli, which looks onto lively Piazza della Repubblica, one of Florence’s oldest squares, delectable beauty is always on display.
And then there are the bridges….
“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewelers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the center, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite”.
— Charles Dickens
…and the sunsets. A few years back, I found myself in Florence, on my own, for five days. Even though I was worn out from the long flight from Los Angeles and fretting over abandoning my family for a week, I tossed my bags into my hotel room and walked immediately to the Ponte Vecchio. I arrived in the twilight of the photo below, so magical it seemed pretend.
“To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.”
— Mark Twain
Above: Saying goodbye to Florence, July 2016
“That tug at your heartstrings, that joy that bubbles up inside of you, and that sense of peace that overcomes you when you are in Florence. You don’t need to search for Florence’s beauty or try to be affected to Florence, you just have to be open to her.”
This is the third post in a three-part series featuring favorite photos from Italy across the years. Click for Part One and Part Two, and be sure to join the community by subscribing to the blog and/or following me on Facebook!
Note: Quotes featured here were found in the post 50 Florence Quotes We Love from CAPA The Global Education Network. Special thanks to CAPA for curating such a fantastic collection!
Also, I have changed the original title of this piece, after a blogger whom I admire and respect pointed out that it was similar to her most recent post. As this was both upsetting and unintentional, I have changed it. My apologies!