When Shah Abbas I chose Isfahan to be his capital, the people residing in der Ottoman rule in Armenia, Caucasus, and Georgia, who were eager to rejoin Persia, sent high-ranking representatives to Esfahan, Shah Abbas accepted their request to liberate them and in 1604. set out for Tabriz with a small army. There he fitted out his army and attacked the Ottoman overlords.
After conquering them, he! organized an obligatory migration of the Armenians to Esfahan and Mazandaran. Some settled in Azerbaijan. It is documented that some thirty or forty thousand Armenians migrated to Esfahan in 1607. Some settled in Fereydan and its surrounding villages and others on the southern bank of the river in Esfahan soon establishing their own little town named New Jolfa (After the city of Jolfa in Azerbaijan). They even received some independence and religious freedom from the Safavid king. The Armenians built 25 churches and prayer halls, of which 13 survive. Amongst all Jolfa Churches, Bethlehem (1628) and Vank (1655) are the most famous, although the Hakup is the eldest. Other churches worth mentioning are Gevers, Saint Mary, Estepanus, Yuhanna, Katarina, Nikoghayus, Gregur, Minas, Serkis, and Nerses.
The Armenians are mostly Gregorian Christians but, of course, there are also churches for the Catholics and Protestants in the Sangtarashan and Hakupjan Quarters. Their population in Esfahan and Shahin Shahr is more than 8,000 and almost 7,000 of them live in the villages of Fereydan and Fereydun Shahr in the west of Esfahan Province. Chevalier Jean Chardin the French traveler in the Safavid period wrote this after his trip to Jolfa: "I have not seen such a splendid and beautiful town in any other part of the world. In Jolfa alone, I could spot 140 houses the equal of royal palaces in regard to their beauty and grandeur". Nowadays, Sukias and David Houses, from the Safavid period, have been converted into art schools.
From the 17th century, when foreigners first started coming to Esfahan until today, nearly 200 of them have died here: 36 French, 33 British, 15 Germans, 11 Dutch, 9 Polish, 4 Australians and 2 Americans. Amongst them, Jacob Rousseau Jean Jacques Rousseau's uncle) and the American, Arthur Upham Pope are the most famous, the former is buried in the Armenian Cemetery and the latter with his wife near Khaju Bridge.
This church is located in Kelisa Alley - Nazar-e Sharghi Street. It was originally built as a prayer hall (Amenapergich) in 1606 and then renovated and extended to its current appearance with its high double-layer dome. It received the name of Vank Church in 1655. Underneath the 38-meter high dome is the prayer hall that holds a unique collection of beautiful frescos depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. The influence of Italian and Dutch painting is quite obvious. In addition to these wall paintings, there are also floral ornamentations and exquisite tile work with gild decorations.
In the northern part of the church's courtyard, there are other important memorials, namely a library (with more than 10.000 books), a monument to the Armenian martyrs killed in the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Turks and a museum. The museum houses some of the earliest books ever printed in Esfahan, royal decrees of Safavid and Qajarid monarchs and other interesting valuable items. The Armenian ecclesiastic center for Esfahan and southern Iran is located in the eastern part of the church. There are 64 gravestones in the church belonging to archbishops, priests, Russian and British consuls, politicians and doctors.
Hakup and Saint Mary Churches
Hakup and Saint Mary Churches; the Hakup Church, dating back to 1604 was the first church built in Jolfa. It is located in Jolfa Square inside the courtyard of Saint Mary's Church. The church of Saint Mary (also known as Khajeh Abed) is one of the most beautiful churches in the city. It was built in 1613 at Khajeh Odvik's expense and he himself is buried in the church which is decorated with mural paintings and haft-rang tiles.
Bethlehem Church is located in the Nazar-e Sharghi Street. It was built in 1628 at the expense of Khajeh Petros, an Armenian merchant. The prayer hall is fully decorated, depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. There is a high double-layer dome with floral gilded designs.
Geverg Church is located in Hakim Nezami Street. The immigrant Armenians had brought sacred memorial stones from their own holy church ruined by the Ottomans and placed them in this very church. It was built in 1611 and the interior decoration is of the plain plasterwork type.
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