GOLJAMATA AYAZMA (VLAHOV DOL)
GOLJAMATA AYAZMA is in Vlahov Dol, one of the tributaries of Veleka River. You get to a bridge, on which there is a sign which reads: GOLJAMATA AYAZMA (The Great Holy Spring), then you go along Vlahov Dol and in about 40 minutes you reach the most sacred place for all fire-dancers.
Coordinates: 42°01’39.08” N, 27°43’34.15” E, 66 m above sea level
This is a sacred place for the fire-dancers’ community in Strandja, also called "Motherland" where pilgrims and dancers gather together on the Sunday before the holiday of St. Constantine and St. Elena – June 3. Today the place is accessible along routes marked by the Directorate of Natural Park "Strandja" starting from each of the five villages and going to Vlahov Dol itself. But you need nearly five hours to get to this area.
The people from Strandja believe that on this day all holy springs in the mountain open and their water is the most healing.
Until recently, this area was not very well known (at least to the tourists). In 2005 on the initiative of Natural Park Strandja was restored the tradition, which had been forgotten for nearly 60 years, for people from the five fire-dancers’ villages in Strandja – Bulgari, Kosti, Gramatikovo, Kondolovo and Slivarovo – to gather together on the Sunday before St. Constantine and St. Elena (celebrated on June 3, old style). Every year, very early on Sunday morning the residents of the five villages leave from the "konatzi" of the saints, led by fire-dancers, the sacred drum and bagpipes, and the Churchwarden. They are followed by boys with icons and the procession of pilgrims going to the Great Holy Spring.
At GOLJAMATA AYAZMA each of the villages has its own sacred spring (ayazma) and a wooden structure "odarche" where the icons are placed, sacrificial gifts are left (money, ritual bread, etc.) and the icons are "washed" with spring water, which on this day is the most healing. The so called "odarcheta" (wooden structures) are the most ancient idea of a sacred structure, predecessors of the temples, which people began to build later on. Every village lays a table with food and sacrificial offering and people dance horo. This marks the beginning of the year for the fire-dancers.
Legend has it that in the past there was a village nearby and the fire-dancers came from that village. Here they established contact with God. Where people dance horo at the Holy Spring today was the place where the holy fire-dancers’ ritual was carried out. Here for the first time the dancers found out that they were elected to walk on live coals.
There are other legends about this area too. One of them tells about a deer, which came to be sacrificed in honor of St. Constantine and St. Elena. It came quietly, lay down to rest, and then went to put its head on the sacrificial stone. One year, however, the people did not wait long enough for the deer to rest and killed it before it could rest and get ready. Another deer never came again on that day.
Fire dancers call their faith "law", which is the responsibility of certain families. It is these families that have preserved the tradition.
In the 1920s the church prohibited the ritual. The last big fair at this place was in 1947.
Fire dancing has been preserved over the centuries thanks to the self-organization of believers. Today it is evaluated by UNESCO as part of the World Intangible Heritage.
The place is associated with the Sunday before June 3, when you can see the procession of the residents of the five fire-dancers’ villages, the horos danced by the local people and the pilgrims (including those who have emigrated to Greece, who also keep the ancient tradition), as well as dances on live coals performed by those who have become "possessed". The area is famous for its preserved nature. It is on one of the tributaries of Veleka River.