What’s the oldest city in the world? What’s the first thing that pops into your head? If you said Rome, today is your lucky day because you’re about to learn something new! Yerevan is 29 YEARS older than Rome. Take that, Rome! Ha!
Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, right next to Babylon. It got its start in 782 BC when King Argishti I founded the fortress of Erebuni. I guess you could say that the rest is history… 2799 years of history, to be precise. Today, unfortunately, most of the historic buildings have been replaced with newer models. In 1924, the architect/urban planner Alexander Tamanian (the same guy who designed the opera house) made a new master plan for the city center, and a lot of the historic streets and structures were destroyed to accommodate his plans. You can still visit the remains of Erebuni fortress, though, about 7 km southeast of the center.
Yerevan’s birthday is celebrated every year (since 1968) on the second Saturday in October. Believe me when I say that this birthday party is like nothing you’ve EVER seen before. Word of the day: ridiculous. I’m going to try not to overuse it in my descriptions of the happenings, but I can’t make any promises because well, it was ridiculous.
There was an extensive schedule of events for the day, and I didn’t make it to even half of them. How could I? You would have to be in 100 places at once. The exciting festivities started with a street cleaning and the washing of Yerevan monuments… don’t want to miss that! Those were the only events that started before noon because this is Armenia and “morning” here means like 12-3PM.
I decided to make a loop around the different areas where things were happening. My timing is apparently impeccable because I made it to Republic Square right at the end of the “Opening of the International Balloon Festival” which means that I was there just in time to see the hot air balloons take off. Oh yes, hot air balloons. Twelve of them. Did you think that “balloon festival” means those dinky latex balloons? This isn’t MY birthday party we’re talking about. This is YEREVAN!
On the topic of balloons though, it looked like a balloon festival threw up all over the city. You couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a balloon arch or balloon column… or 100 of them. Tons of businesses had balloon arches surrounding their doorways, colors perfectly coordinated to the business’s colors or defaulted to Armenian flag colors. I don’t even know how they managed to accumulate that many balloons. Trust me, I am NOT being dramatic. I’ve seriously never seen anything like it. Balloon factories around the globe probably worked overtime for months to fill the city’s order. Okay, maybe slightly dramatic, but we’ll say 5% drama and 95% completely warranted commentary.
Anyway, the hot air balloons. It was like something straight out of a movie. The twelve of them took off one after another and floated around the square. It was awesome. Don’t think that when I say “ridiculous” I mean it wasn’t awesome because it definitely was that. It was also just completely over the top.
I took a stroll down to City Hall and was there just in time to see the “Festive cycling” participants (aka people on bikes, carrying Yerevan flags and wearing matching t-shirts) depart. So incredibly random. From there, I headed back towards the center and the opera house. One of the best things about the day was that most of the streets in the event areas were closed. How fun is it to be able to walk fearlessly in the middle of a usually busy street? (The correct answer, by the way, is VERY fun.)
There were also approximately one million stages with ongoing performances all across town. There were stages in Republic Square, the park near Republic Square, the opera house, two of the parks near the opera house, two on Northern Avenue, and at Cascade. And I’m probably missing some, honestly.
I spent the day marveling at the fact that we literally searched the entire city on Independence Day, trying to find something going on and failing miserably. Now I understand why because with plans in the works for Yerevan Day, how could the city afford to do anything? Better question, how could the city afford Yerevan Day? I would bet that’s a sensitive topic… there are so many things here that could benefit from even a tiny fraction of the probably millions of dollars it took to pull everything off.
This makes Armenia sound like a country with confused priorities, and I won’t argue with that. Before you start judging though, think about the fact that it happens everywhere. I’d bet there are zero countries that aren’t guilty of doing the exact same thing. I’m not saying it should be excused because everyone does it or that I didn’t think the day was a ton of fun… It’s just something to think about.
At night, there were simultaneous concerts at a few of the stages. I went to the one at Cascade because it seemed like the biggest deal. I had heard about previous concerts there and wanted to see it in action. They put up a stage facing Cascade, and people stand on the stairs like they’re bleachers! It’s brilliant. I somehow ended up right in the front, maybe because I was by myself and it’s much easier to wiggle your way through a crowd when you’re solo. The concert was an orchestra with a revolving cast of singers. Each singer came on for one song, and sometimes it was just instrumental so they brought out dancers. I enjoyed the music, and it was also cool that the crowd was a huge mix of ages, from babies to grandparents. It’s always fun to be a part of something that brings together a diverse group of people.
In conclusion, Yerevan Day was ridiculous. Everything was done to the extreme. I think my jaw was dropped for 80% of the day. People looked like they were having a great time. I had a great time. I feel like I can confidently say that I will never experience a day like that again. I just have one question left… if that was how 2799 was celebrated, what on earth is 2800 going to look like?