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Les Arméniens dans le commerce asiatique au début de l'ère moderne

Sushil Chaudhury
Kéram Kévonian

II. Les Arméniens et la Nouvelle-Djoulfa / Armenians and New Julfa

5. The Architecture of New Julfa

Armen Haghnazarian

Texte intégral

1The Armenian Plateau was of great military and strategic importance, and was a bone of contention between the neighbouring countries for centuries, due to its geographical position. It was also a target for nomadic tribes begining from the end of the 6th century. Being unable to bear the oppression of ruling despots, a section of the Armenian population left their homes and sought peace in other remote countries. In certain cases the despots made the people emigrate forcibly and used them to develop their countries.

2Historical events dictated by political motivations often created situations when it was necessary to develop the Armenian colonies to protect national identity, national values, traditions and culture. Thus, numerous Armenian colonies were founded which flourished from the Far East to the West, due to the Armenians’ creative abilities, trade skills, rich culture and diplomatic wisdom. So under the circumstances it was important to protect the Armenian culture harmonizing it with the local culture and traditions. In the 16th century Armenia became the battlefield of its neighbours, Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Persia, as a result of which most part of the country was ruined and ultimately conquered by Turkey. But in the beginning of the 17th century, Persian Shah, Abbas the Great, launched a counter-offensive starting a long period of destructive wars.

3On his way back from the Turkish-Persian war in 1603, Shah Abbas destroyed a few provinces of Armenia, including Goghtn (Nakhichevan), totally annihilated the famous town of Julfa and deported the Armenian people to Persia. Suffering hardship and losses on the way of deportation, the surviving Armenian population was able to reach the capital of Persia, Isfahan, where the inhabitants of Julfa were settled, while those of the villages of Julfa took up residence in Isfahan’s various villages, particularly in the districts of Char Mahal (Char Mahal-e Baqtiayi) and Peria.

4Well aware of the Armenians’ trade, handicraft, engineering and building abilities, Shah Abbas intended to turn Isfahan into a great cultural and commercial centre with the help of the deported Armenians. He gave the Armenians the vast territories on the southern bank of the Zayandeh-Rud river of Isfahan and a separate town, divided into quarters for each kin and for the inhabitants of each town, was designed and constructed there in a short period of rime. Quarters named Greater Meydan, Lesser Meydan, Erevan, Davrezh (Tabriz), etc., emerged in New Julfa. Thus a section of the inhabitants of Julfa was forcibly resettled in New Julfa, whereas the peasants uprooted from Armenia began a new life in about 55 settlements of Char Mahal and Peria.

5In 1640 New Julfa became a famous and important cultural centre of the Armenians. Here edifices presenting rich architecture, public buildings, including workshops, trade houses, schools, bath-houses, a publishing house—in 1638 Khachatour of Caesareia published the first book there in the publishing house of the Amenaprkich (All Saviour) Monastery—were built, and beautiful monasteries, churches, bridges over the Zayandeh-Rud river adjoining the New Julfa to Isfahan, which are used till now, were erected. Out of the four bridges, the one built by Khoja Nazar (Pole Khaju in Persian) and the arched one built by Allahverdi Khan (Siosepol in Persian) with 33 vaults, symbolizing Jesus Christ’s age, are standing till today, enjoying great fame. Thirteen of the twenty-four churches of New Julfa standing up to now are the obvious specimens of the architecture and culture of that time.

6Surb Hakob Mtzbna (Saint James of Nisibis) Church, built in 1606, is considered to be the first church in New Julfa. It was named a chapel because of its small size. The small church erected in the yard of the monastery was destroyed in 1655 and the ravishing Amenap’rkich church was built in its site nine years later. The latter is adorned with flower ornaments and paintings from the New and Old Testaments. Khoja Avetik patronized the church construction and talented Minas, Hovhannes Mrkouz, Father Kirakos and Barsegh had drawn the paintings.

  • 1 The relics of Saint Gregory the Illuminator were transported from Ejmiatzin to New Julfa in 1615 an (...)

7Surb Gevorg (Saint George) Church situated in Lesser Meydan quarters and built with financial help of Khoja Nazar is one of the biggest and famous churches in New Julfa. This sanctuary, a few stones of which were brought from Ejmiatzin with the decree of Shah Abbas, is one of the pilgrimage centres in New Julfa. Surb Stepanos (Saint Stephen) Church was built in 1617 in Hakobjan quarter with the sponsorship of the people. The church carrying the name of Surb Hovhannes Mkrtich (Saint-John the Baptist) or Right Hand is situated in the Charsou quarter. It was named Holy Virgin (Surb Astwatzatzin) in the past and the people used to call it Church of the Right Hand because it is the first church in New Julfa that retained the Right Hand of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.1

8Saint Bethlehem, erected in 1627-1628 by Khoja Petros Velijanian, is a magnificent and big domed church. In the 1850’s the church was on the brink of destruction, but it was repaired and saved thanks to Agha Yelizian. Surb Sargis (Saint Sergius) was erected in 1659 with the sponsorship of the people. It was adorned with pictures in the past, but now the pictures are totally deleted. Saint Minas Church was erected in the same year and is situated in the quarter of Davrezh (Tabriz): all the niches, pillars as well as the altar are adorned. Surb Katarine (Saint Catherine) Nunnery was erected in the Charsou quarter in 1623. One of the first schools was opened in Saint Catherine in 1858 and a part of the building was turned into an orphanage and an old people’s home in 1967. All the churches of New Julfa had gongs made of boards, a pattern of which is kept in Saint Catherine Nunnery. A bell was brought for Saint Thomas Church (Surb Tovma) for the first time; this church, named “the monastery with a bell” for this reason, is now destroyed. Besides the thirteen Apostolic churches, one Catholic and one Evangelist churches used to function in New Julfa.

9From the point of architecture, the plans of the churches of New Julfa repeat those of the churches of the Goght’n and Ernjak Provinces, in the valley of the Araxes river (Nakhichevan at present). They have domed halls, basilica compositions with four pillars which are characteristic of the churches of that period. It should be mentioned as a peculiarity that all the churches in New Julfa have complexes bearing a resemblance to monasteries, including cells, stores, kitchens, halls and sometimes schools. These complexes are surrounded with tall walls. A few entrances of these spiritual centers adjoined various streets and the inhabitants of the quarters used to take shelter there in case of emergency. Besides the mother church, a chapel named Church of Summer was built in the eastern part of the complex. This is also characteristic of the Goghtn’s architecture that developed in Julfa, and had an impact on the Armenian churches in India.

10In general the constructive art of New Julfa unifies the Armenians’ architectural styles, types, understanding of beauty, national traditions, way of life and different factors such as the local climate, building material, criteria and standards of Islam, and, in particular, the culture and authority of the architecture of Safa. The Armenians’ trade ties with foreign countries such as Venice and Amsterdam—from where painters were invited to Persia to adorn the churches and buildings—India and even China, which had trade houses and Armenian communities, and from where tiles, curtains for altars, accessories for everyday use in church were brought, also influenced the architecture of New Julfa. Armenian architecture is peculiar and rich, but it is necessary to take into account that it had often been influenced by the traditions and styles of countries beyond Armenia, in the process of its development and innovation

11While studying the development of present Armenia, Artsakh (Karabagh) and Nakhichevan’s architecture in the 17th-19th centuries, we obviously see the influence of New Julfa. In other words, the Armenian people uprooted from their homeland created a new culture of architecture in New Julfa and returned it to Armenia, thanks to the initiative of merchants and the sponsorship of craftsmen. The culture created in New Julfa is an integral part of the centuries-old Armenian culture.

The Ornamentation Art of the Churches in New Julfa

12It is impossible to study the architecture of the thirteen churches of New Julfa without dwelling on the magnificent ornamentation art of the buildings. The Armenians deported by Shah Abbas from Goghtn and Ernjak Provinces brought with them their national customs, culture, and architectural traditions. The plans of the churches of New Julfa followed those of the sanctuaries of Agoutis, Tseghna, Bist, Paraka, Yeaj and Ramis, of Old Julfa. But the stone walls of Armenia’s churches were replaced in New Julfa by brick and kahgel (local soil mixture) here.

13According to the rules of the Armenian Church, the exterior of the religious building must be ornamented while the interior must be austere and plain. Armenian tradition demands the internal isolation of the church. Human being meets with the sacred world of faith in a church, in the House of God where the Lord is present invisibly. Rite does not tolerate plentiful tight. One must isolate oneself and semi-darkness is necessary to create a mystery. Ornamentation of mosques with tiles was an accepted style in Islamic countries, but churches in New Julfa should not have competed with Isfahan’s mosques with their exterior beauty. This was creating an extraordinary situation and compelled the Armenians to change their own tradition and build austere exterior, adorning the interior with ornaments and wall paintings. Armenian merchants’ journeys in Europe, where they got acquainted with the art of other churches, and their desire to modernize the architectural style of the Armenian buildings also led to a change of the Armenian tradition.

14The direct influence of this new architectural culture becomes obvious when the development of the regional architecture of Goghtn and Ernjak is studied. At the same time, all the way through the 17th and 18th centuries, fine arts developed most in Armenia. The trade ties created chances to establish relations with craftsmen, masters of the neighbouring and remote countries, creating an independent culture in the atmosphere of mutual influence of cultures. The cultural life of the Armenian communities of India, China, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and Holland also made a deep impression on New Julfa and this helped enriching the Armenian art.

15The Armenian paintings of this period, imbued with medieval traditions, incorporated European ideas in their style while maintaining their originality. That is where the role of the merchants and New Julfa are clearly visible as this resulted in a fusion of Persian and European art with that of the Armenians. The mural art was first introduced in churches and then in residential buildings. Unfortunately, in the last several decades, the majority of the landlords of these edifices had changed, and the buildings of khojas, looking like cashes that had been standing for centuries, were destroyed. These buildings have not been studied, measured or systematically photographed in the past so that this unique cultural value could have been saved (fig. 1-a-b-c, plate) (see however Karapetian, 1974). Thirteen out of the twenty-four churches of New Julfa still stand there intact (Haghnazarian, 1992). The whole interiors and arched covers or a part of the altar and the dome of these churches are adorned with paintings. Besides the murals, the churches abound with pictures and works of applied art of different periods. In particular Amenaprkich, Bethlehem and Astwatzatzin churches are interesting, their walls being totally covered with oil and tempera paintings (fig. 2, plate). Only some researches have been conducted on the paintings of Amenaprkich Church: Harutiun Kurdian’s and Thomas Boase’s articles concerning them (Kurdian, 1939-1940. Boase, 1950, 64-65, 323-327) and Mania Ghazarian’s work dedicated to the painters of New Julfa (1974, 13-96, 251-253) deserve particular mention in this context.

  • 2 We have also to mention an Indian painter, Beshndas, who worked in Shah Abbas I’s palace.

16The painting art of Safavid Persia, with its miniatures and the notion of beauty, was disseminated in New Julfa. In the meantime, the Armenians who had emigrated into Persia did not discard the miniature traditions already existing in New Julfa. The role of the Armenian merchants in creating a new trend in the Persia’s painting art was not small in any way. They used to bring to Persia paintings from Holland and Italy that served as models and patterns for the local painters. Dutch, Italian, German painters, the majority of whom were sent by the European East India companies with the objective of penetrating the court, worked in Isfahan’s royal palaces and castles.2 The painters who came from Europe, Lockass, Angel, Dietrich Nieman, etc., were living in New Julfa as Christians. They probably worked in the workshops of the Armenian painters, exerting some influence on them. They were creating works in Isfahan when the art of such great Persian painters as Reza Abbas or Mohamade Zamani was flourishing in Persia.

17As we know, the Armenians of New Julfa also had relations with the countries of the East and the Far East, and had founded trade houses in Agra, Surat, Lahore, Madras, Calcutta, Saidabad, and other towns of India as well as China and Java. The economic ties resulted in mutual cultural influence, too, although that has not attracted much attention and studied till date. For example, there are numerous works of applied art such as church accessories, embroidered curtains, which were made and donated by the Armenians of India and China (fig. 3-a-b, plate).

18It has been common practice since the 17th and 18th centuries to cover the walls, 120-140 cm high from the floor of the church, and the domed pillars with tiles. This is characteristic of Persian art with its haft rang “seven colors”: yellow, blue, turquoise (peghorak), dark brown, purple and white. Trees, flowers, animals, dragons, pheasants, angels and geometric ornaments are painted on the tiles. Although they bear a great resemblance to Persian art, they represent the style of the Armenian craftsmen and are distinguished for their dynamism, Christian themes and Armenian inscriptions (fig. 4, plate). Besides these tiles, the slabs used in Surb Sargis Church are painted bright and dark green, and depict the fauna and flora: palms, monkeys, tigers, elephants. These pictures reflect the Indian style, pointing out the East’s direct connection with New Julfa (fig. 5, plate).

19A pupill of Khachatour of Cæsareia, Oskan of Erevan, born in Isfahan, published the first printed Bible in Armenian in Amsterdam in 1666. In the book of Apocalypse he used the images engraved by Dutch engraver Christofel van Sichem, who, in his turn, copied the famous Apocalypse xylograph of Albrecht Diirer (1471-1528). The pictures of Oskan of Erevan had their great influence on Armenian publishing pictography, simultaneously serving as originals in the miniature and paintings (Ghazarian, 1974, 45-46, 102, 189, n. 106). The interesting Perso-European atmosphere contributed to the development of the school of New Julfa. Arakel of Tabriz expresses his admiration for painter Minas, who was taught by foreign masters in Aleppo (Khanlarian, 1990, 324-325). In the 17th-18th centuries Aleppo was a great trade centre and numerous European painters enriched its artistic tradition. As Arakel of Tabriz mentions, returning to Persia, Minas painted in oil, watercolours, coal. Apart from that, he was distinguished for his good portraits when portrait painting was not much developed in the East.

20The paintings of the houses of Khodja Safraz and Petros Velijanian, part of the frescos in the palace of Shah Abbas and Shah Safi, as well as several paintings in Amenaprkich monastery are ascribed to Minas. His paintings reveal his particular style, that was based on a combination of Armenian, Persian and European art. According to Arakel of Tabriz, Minas also had apprentices: “Some have been his apprentices.” Their names unfortunately are not known, but it is probable that Hovhannes (John) Tiezeralouys or Mrkouz and Hovhannes Stepanos, who have worked in the monastery as painters, were among them. Malam, Vardan and Muratjan, Father Stepanos three sons, are also mentioned in this connexion. Hovhannes Vardapet Mrquz (1642-1715) was a celebrated painter of New Julfa. He was also famous as a theologian and a philosopher, and had participated in the ornamentation of Amenap’rkich monastery (Ghazarian, 1974, 32-38. Ghougassian, 1998, 177-185. Mirzoyan, 2001, 190-218, and passim). His paintings are of high quality though they reflect austerity.

21Painter, jeweller and master of silver goods, Astwatzatour or Tanri Veran, who is mentioned in history as Bogdan Saltanov, was born and worked in New Julfa, where he gained such high a fame that he was invited to Russia by the tsar Alexis Mikhailovich. He left for Moscow in 1667 to work in the tsars palaces (Ghazarian, 1974, 50-96). In a letter written to Sarhat’s son in 1666, it was mentioned that Saltanov had come “from Kharkan where [...]. He had greater skills and abilities than the others” (Ghazarian, Voskanian, 1986, 68-69). Bogdan Saltanov lived in Moscow for more than thirty years, devoting himself to the creation of secular and religious paintings, portraits, icons and engravings. He ornamented the palaces and churches, repaired the decor of some ancient buildings and had a lot of apprentices. Bogdan Saltanov has more than 300 works of art in Moscow, but his activity in Isfahan and New Julfa has not been fully explored till today.



Boase, T. S. R., 1950. “A Seventeenth-century Typological Cycle of Paintings in the Armenian Cathedral at Julfa”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld institutes, London, 13 (3-4).

Ghazarian, M., 1974. Image 10000000000001D1000000147674D1F2.jpg (The Armenian Figurative Art in XVII-XVIIIth Centuries. Painting), Erevan, Academy of Sciences.

Ghazarian, M.; Voskanian, V., 1986. Image 100000000000017500000014404D4E2B.jpg (Bogdan Saltanov), Erevan, Sovetakan grogh.

Ghougassian, V. S., 1998. The Emergence of the Armenian Diocese of New Julfa in the Seventeenth Century, Atlanta, Scholars Press.

Haghnazarian, A., 1992. Nor-Djulfa. A Brief Historical Outline and Description. Cenni storici e descrittivi su Nor-Djulfa, Venice, OEMME.

Karapetian, K., 1974. Isfahan. New Julfa. The Houses of the Armenians: a Collection of Architectural Surveys. Le case degli Armeni: una raccolta di rilevamenti architettonici, Roma, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Centro restauri; Tehran, lstituto italiano di cultura.

Khanlarian, L., ed., 1990. Image 10000000000001C900000014BFC1F199.jpg (Arakel of Tabriz [Arakel Davrirzhetsi], Rook of Histories), Erevan, Academy of sciences [1669].

Kurdian, H., 1939-1940. Image 10000000000001DF00000014C767FE5B.jpg Image 10000000000001BF00000014EB6C30AF.jpg (“Materials for the History of Armenian Art. The wall -paintings of the All Saviour Monastery of New Julfa”), Image 100000000000009B00000014AC7BEDEC.jpg (Hayrenik amsakir), Boston, 18 (2), 206, 1939 [149-156]; 18 (3), 207, 1940 [120-134]; 18 (4), 208, 1940.

Mirzoyan, H., 2001. Image 1000000000000155000000144432F0BE.jpg (Hovhannes Mrkuz of Julfa), Erevan, University of Erevan.

Ter Hovhaniants, H., 1980-1981. Image 100000000000013B00000014C00B41A7.jpg, 2 vols., New Julfa, All Saviour Printing House [Translation by Father Petrossian into east.. mod. Arm. From Image 100000000000007F00000014CF3D6044.jpg Image 100000000000014300000014F96A704F.jpg (History of New Julfa, founded in Isfahan), 2 vols., New Julfa, 1880-1881].


1 The relics of Saint Gregory the Illuminator were transported from Ejmiatzin to New Julfa in 1615 and remained there until 1638. Ter Hovhaniants, 1980-1981 [1880-1881], i, 68-71.

2 We have also to mention an Indian painter, Beshndas, who worked in Shah Abbas I’s palace.


Rheinisch-Westfälisch Technische Hochschule Aachen ; Research on Armenian Architecture, e.v., Aachen. (Allemagne)

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