Lonely Planet Writer

Study finds travellers to Jerusalem most excited by their first sight of the old city

A one-of-a-kind study has tracked the physical reactions of a group of travellers as they toured the most famous sights of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Wailing Wall or Kotel within the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel. Above the wall is the Temple Mount.
Wailing Wall or Kotel within the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel. Above the wall is the Temple Mount. Image by 500px

Researchers fitted monitors to 68 people visiting Israel for the first time to try to understand exactly how they would respond emotionally to iconic buildings and vistas that they see for the first time. And the results were not exactly as they expected. One location, a small green space called the Daniel Auster Garden, caused one of the strongest reactions of all. The physiological readings from travellers passing through the garden matched up with some of Jerusalem’s best-known monuments, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Wailing Wall. The reason why the Daniel Auster Garden provoked such a response … it is the first time that the old city comes into view.

Yonatan Schvimer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explained to Lonely Planet: “we had the places that we assumed would arouse people: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the holy sites in general. We knew those places were prone to emotional arousal. “What was interesting was identifying the places where people wouldn’t usually cite as being emotionally arousing and one of these places is this garden. And we then found that this is where they get the first sight of the Old City as they walk down Jaffa Street.

“We also thought for instance that the central market of West Jerusalem, Machane Yehuda – we would usually see that as a very exciting and bustling area. But actually, for tourists – it was characterised by lesser levels of arousal.” The physiological reaction to specific monuments did not happen exactly as might be anticipated either. At the Western Wall, visitors showed higher levels of arousal not at the wall itself but instead on the walk from the Dung Gate.

The study also found that the travellers – all of whom were staying at the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem – were far more predictable than expected. Despite being mostly young, backpackers, and not on guided tours, they tended to stick to the historical core of the city and were unlikely to wander further afield.

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