Column One: Oh no, it's sudden unhinged tourist syndrome

THOUSANDS OF people will be jetting away for millennium breaks in the hope of escaping the stresses and strains of the new year - but anyone thinking of heading for a destination with spiritual overtones would be advised to consult a psychiatrist before they book. Alongside the usual Foreign Office warnings about war zones and unstable economies, doctors are now advising travellers who choose destinations for their spiritual or artistic content that they run the risk of mental breakdown.

Jerusalem carries the highest risk because of its central significance for people from three of the world's great religions - Jews, Christians and Muslims. But visitors to the art treasures of Florence, the Acropolis in Athens or to other holy destinations in India, the Middle East and Europe have also fallen under a spell that affected their mental equilibrium.

Every year, up to 100 visitors to Jerusalem are so overcome by the experience that they don white robes - hotel bed sheets make a convenient substitute - and tour the city chanting psalms. Psychiatrists from the Kfer Shaul mental health centre in the city reported a 50 per cent surge in admissions last month of pilgrims struck by the Jerusalem syndrome after being drawn by the dawn of the new millennium. They predicted the total could double by the end of this year.

It is similar to the Stendhal syndrome, named after the French writer who described feelings of deja vu and disquiet after looking at works of art in Florence. An Italian specialist, Dr Magherini, reported in 1992 on 106 cases of tourists admitted to hospitals in Florence between 1977 and 1986. In many cases a small detail in a painting or sculpture evoked an outburst of anxiety reaching psychotic dimensions.

One of the first accounts of the syndrome was given by Sigmund Freud in his 1936 essay "A disturbance of memory on the Acropolis". He experienced a sense of unreality and detachment that left him seriously shaken as he toured the monument.

Writing in the January issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Yair Bar-El and colleagues from the Kfer Shaul mental health centre say nearly all the ordinary tourists who developed Jerusalem syndrome came from ultra- religious Protestant families. Its cause is thought to be a combination of the disorientation caused by travel, the clash of cultures and a strong religious belief.

They write: "It may be that [the victims] were unable to reconcile the idealistic subconscious image of Jerusalem as a holy place with the war- torn city it is in reality."

One sufferer, a Swiss lawyer on a group tour of Greece, Israel and Egypt, became anxious and agitated on his first night in Jerusalem. He split away from the group, became obsessed with taking baths to purify himself, used hotel bed linen to form a toga-like garment and toured the city, giving improvised sermons. After seven days the episode passed, he rejoined the group and enjoyed the rest of his holiday in good health.

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor