Imagine: you’re walking along the streets of Yerevan and suddenly someone appears at your side with a bucket full of water — and they’re lifting it to pour it on your head. A thousand questions run through your mind: What can I do? How can I escape? Are they insane?
There’s no escape, and no, they’re not insane. But you can rest assured that this strange behaviour is perfectly normal. Normal, that is, when you realise that this is part of a festival that’s very special for all Armenians: the Vardavar festival.
On hot summer days, Armenians know how to cool down — everyone takes part in this city-wide activity, which basically involves running through the streets and pouring water on anyone you see. Foreigners aren’t immune — if you’re in Armenia at the time of the festival, you’re likely to be drenched at least once.
Although Armenians are Christians, this holiday has a pagan origin, and was regarded with great importance in pagan times. It was dedicated to Astghik, goddess of love, beauty, water, and fertility; pagan celebrants gave Astghik roses and poured water over each other.
After Christianity arrived in the country, Armenians decided to keep this favourite holiday alive by transforming it into a Christian celebration. These days, Vardavar or “Jrotsi” is celebrated 14 weeks after Easter, in July.
The traditions of this ceremony haven’t changed much since then, and there’s still a religious flavour to the holiday, which is now the biggest event of the summer. Pouring water over strangers and friends represents the cleansing of sins, as the water washes away recent transgressions. There are also shows and concerts to enjoy in the city centre.
How to get to the Vardavar Festival
There is no need to go anywhere in particular to take part — believe me, if you’re anywhere in Armenia at the time of the festival, you are going to get wet. But if you want to be in the centre of the action you can go Republic Square or Swan Lake in Yerevan.
These are located right in the centre of Yerevan and it’s very easy to get there. Transport to the city from the suburbs costs 100 AMD (about 21 cents in US dollars) by minibus, or go by taxi for 700-1000 AMD (less than USD$2).
When is the Vardavar Festival?
Vardavar or Jrotsi is celebrated 14 weeks after Easter, in July. It will fall on July 8, 2018 and on July 28 2019. It is completely free to take part in this festival. You’ll have an awesome time!
The Vardavar festival takes place on a hot summer day, and things kick off early in the morning and continue until around 5pm, when the weather starts to cool down.
Where to stay
Though Armenia is small, it’s not hard to find a great place to stay. Yerevan has a wide range of accommodation options, from cheap hostels to luxurious hotels, so you can take your pick.
After the festival
Make sure to spend some extra time in Yeravan before or after the festival. Known as the pink capital for the colour of its buildings, the city is beautiful at any time of the year. In springtime the city flourishes, surrounded by green trees; in summer, the city has other colours, as city life continues until midnight.
During your stay, make sure to visit the singing fountains in Republic Square, and relax next to Swan Lake — a favourite spot for the young people of the city.
Visit Northern Avenue’s cafés and restaurants, and admire the beautiful Opera Theatre. Shop in Yerevan’s three famous avenues (Sayat-Nova, Marshal Baghramyan, and Mesrop Mashtots) or head to beautiful Tumanyan St, or Abovyan St if you’re looking for luxury goods.
End your long walk at the Cascade stairways, a perfect place to relax and enjoy views over the whole city.
Head to Armenia in July
For a unique experience, head to Armenia in July to take part in the Vardavar festival. Make sure to protect your phone and wallet from getting wet, then head to the streets with a bucket and get involved in throwing water at complete strangers.