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Monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank)

Date of Submission: 01/02/2019
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization
State, Province or Region:
Isfahan Province
Coordinates: N32 38 06 E51 39 21
Ref.: 6385

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran which consists of three monastic ensembles of the Armenian Christian faith: St Thaddeus and St Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor were registered in the World Heritage List on 2008, are examples of outstanding universal value of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions. They bear testimony to very important interchanges with the other regional cultures, in particular the Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian. Situated on the south-eastern fringe of the main zone of the Armenian cultural space, the monasteries constituted a major centre for the dissemination of that culture in the region. They are the last regional remains of this culture that are still in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity. Furthermore, as places of pilgrimage, the monastic ensembles are living witnesses of Armenian religious traditions through the centuries.

This culture and traditions has been drawn not only in the northwest of Iran but also to the central plateau of Iran. Iranian-Armenian cultural-social interactions expanded to the central plateau of Iran with the Armenian migration in the Safavid period from northwest of Iran to Isfahan by Shah Abbas I. Armenian settlement in the historic city of Isfahan led to the one of the most important event as construction of the new district of Julfa in Isfahan.

In the wake of construction the new Julfa which reminded the old Julfa by regards to its values and in combination of Isfahani school architecture with Armenian architecture, creation of the monastery of St. Amenaprkich has played a vital role to indicate the first sign of Armenian identity in the Islamic city of Isfahan.

The monastery of Amenaprkich has played a major role as the first cultural communication link between Armenians and Iranians in the new Julfa neighborhood. The importance of these cultural interactions is such that it cannot be ignored.

That is why this monastery as a focal point in the connection and evolution of the important historical event and also as a glorious architectural monument has a evolutionary role in expressing the outstanding universal value of the Armenian monastic ensembles of Iran and it is necessary to add this monastery to other three monasteries in this case.

The monastery ensemble of monastery Vank the or Amenaprkich .St is approximately 8731 square meters consisting of: the main church and its courtyard, the belfry, library, museum, clock tower, quarters for the bishop and priests, assembly halls and the printing house. Located at the Meydan-e Bozorg (meaning Grand Square in Farsi) district of Isfahan, the church occupies a large area and has
four entrances for different functions. Beneath the three-story clock tower of the ensemble is its main entrance which opens into a cobblestoned courtyard full of pine trees.

Formation of the building is resulted from several major components like the establishment of a Christian religious structure within a Muslim-dwelling urban fabric which has an Islamic visual standard. Therefore, the local planning mentality has evidently been respected in the outward appearance of the building. At the same time, symbolic decorations and motifs of its Armenian- Christian architecture have been maintained albeit partially on the exterior but accompanied with elaborate decorations at the interior architecture including exceptional and expensive paintings. As a matter of fact, this degree of biblical story-telling in church painting is unprecedented. Travelers visiting the church have immediately taken note of the huge but plain domes of the church and have mentioned them in their travelogues. This is in contrast to the richly decorated domes of Isfahan mosques which are adorned with colorful ceramics. But the simple outward appearance of the church makes the magnificence of its interior even more impressive. Particularly walls of the main holyblessed of the Vank monastery are covered with paintings, gilded plates and colorful ceramics. Some of those visiting Vank during the 17th century have commented that these decorations and paintings have been inspired by their European counterparts. Indeed, Armenians who had been to Europe brought back with them impressing portraits and icons which are presently kept at the Vank Museum of New Julfa and its churches. One of other outstanding architectural values of this magnificent monument is the combination of Iranian and Armenian arts in the construction and decoration of the cathedral which was later used also at other churches of New Julfa.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Armenian monasteries of the central plateau of Iran especially Vank the or Amenaprkich .St monastery have borne continuous testimony, since the origins of Christianity and certainly since the 7th century, to Armenian culture in its relations and contact with the Persian and later the Iranian civilizations. It bear testimony to a very large and refined panorama of architectural and decorative content associated with Armenian culture, in interaction with other regional cultures: Persian, Byzantine, Orthodox, Assyrian and Muslim. The monastery has survived some centuries of destruction, both of human origin and as a result of natural disasters. It has been repair several times in a spirit in keeping with Armenian cultural traditions. Today the monastery of St. Amenaprkich and other monasteries in New Julfa are the only important vestiges of Armenian culture in this region. St. Amenaprkich has always been a place of high spiritual value for Christians and other inhabitants in the region. It is still today a living place of pilgrimage for the Armenian Church.

Simultaneous construction of the monastery of St. Amenaprkich ( New Julfa Vank) with the World Heritage monastery of St. Stepanus in the region of the Azerbaijan-East Julfa, same builders and architects of these two buildings, which were sent to Isfahan by the rulers of time or Armenian elders, culminated in the great event of social and cultural interaction.

The purpose of adding an extension to the world heritage dossier of The Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran” is to emphasize the significance of the monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank) for the continued development of Armenian architecture in Iran. The dossier contains three outstanding monuments of Armenian monastery and other nine relevant components in Azerbaijan Province inscribed in 2008. In the extension dossier entitled” the monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank)” the following points are noteworthy:

1- Due to the approximate simultaneous construction of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank) with the world heritage site of St. Stephanous, it seems that both had same builders and architects. Evidently, they were brought to Isfahan by the order of the Iranian governors or Armenian elders of the time to construct a cathedral similar to St. Stepanous enjoying a joint educational and religious function.

2- Innovation on such scale in the architecture of an Armenian church is unprecedented because the conventional stone architecture has been turned into a brick and mud brick one and the single-shell domes have become double-shelled while preserving their intended plan. Seemingly this was due to the compulsory principles of urban architecture of the time in Isfahan. Moreover, in order to prevent any possible ethnical and religious tensions, Shah Abbas decided to inhibit the construction of a structure with the appearance of a church resulting in the creation of a unique edifice. As a matter of fact, St. Amenaprkich ensemble enjoys an overall Islamic appearance with the exception of the bell tower which stands separate from the main building. Of course on the outward exterior, delicate brickwork decorations with Armenian-Christian motifs exist characteristic of the building but they are only distinguishable at close distance. From a more distant point of view, such decorations are assimilated into the dominant Islamic architecture of the urban landscape. At the same time the interior of the monastery has been richly decorated with excellent oil paintings.

3- Among amazing effects of the Safavid-era architecture of Isfahan on the construction of St. Amenaprkich in particular and on the architectural development of the Armenian monastery in general is the execution of the first Persian polychrome tiles on interior plinths with Armenian- Christian
motifs. This is unprecedented in the Christian world.

4- Arrival and settlement of Armenians in the Muslim-dwelling capital of Iran was not feasible without their reception by local people in accordance with a long tradition of hospitality. Juxtaposition of these two world views led to great achievements such as the introduction of industries of the Old Julfa to Iran, establishment of the first printing house in St. Amenaprkich convent and the first execution of oil paintings in Iranian architecture and domestic decorations.

5- The most outstanding historical characteristic of St. Amenaprkich is its function as a monastery ensemble for Christian teaching at the heart of an Islamic capital. Respecting the right of practice for other religions in Iran has a long history and the St. Amenaprkich exemplifies the age old tradition. Therefore, nominating of this particular site, is intended to show that even today this area is a land where peaceful coexistence of religions continues without any major problem.

6- Without doubt, from an urban perspective Isfahan boasts the most comprehensive collection of Islamic art. Although regarded as the art capital of Iran, from the point of view of urban planning based on aesthetics and arts, Isfahan is also one of the unique cities of the east. Because of their significance, the majority of well-known encyclopedias of the world have entries about Isfahan, New Julfa and St. Amenaprkich. Famous travelers like Jean Chardin (1643-1713) and Jean Babtiste Tavernier (1605-1689) have mentioned Isfahan, the New Julfa, importance of the Armenian community and the magnificence of St. Amenaprkich monastery in their travelogues. As a matter of fact, the social, cultural and economic activities of New Julfa Armenians as well as their buildings have always been interesting for foreign visitors.

Criterion (ii): The monastery of St. Amenaprkich in Iran illustrate the Outstanding Universal Value of Armenian and Iranian architectural and decorative traditions. = They bear testimony to very important cultural interchanges with the other regional cultures, in particular Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian. This monastery is an emphasis on the outstanding values of cultural interactions and interchange of Armenian and Iranian arts and traditions.

Criterion (iii): The monastery of St. Amenaprkich bear witness to the cultural tradition of Armenian population from center of Iran, which once existed in the region. The site, being the focal points of a large network of communication and religious centers, constitute the easternmost manifestation of Amenian Church. The monastery of St. Amenaprkich is an example that combines ancient Armenian traditions from old Julfa and Iranian traditions to witness a lively cultural tradition that has maintained its link with the religious centers of the north west region of Iran and Armenia for many years to come. And It is a major centre for its diffusion in the region. Today It is one of the last regional testimony of this culture in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity.

Criterion (vi): The monastery of St. Amenaprkich is closely connected with the events that have marked the history of Armenian people in the course of time. It is the Archdiocese and religious center of the Armenian immigrants in Iran are Armenian religious centers in the East, which has extensive relations with many religious centers of the Christian world in the East and the West. And as the most important church in the center of Iran, many artistic, literary, historical, and archaeological documents are kept in its library and museum. It is the center for the restoration of intangible heritage and Armenian beliefs. In addition to teaching religious sciences, the founder of many cultural trends, such as the foundations of the printing industry, has been the first school and related cultural activities in Isfahan. Accordingly, this monastery is directly associated with living traditions and beliefs of the Armenians, which bears an exceptional testimony to the Armenian faith and culture.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The monastery of St. Amenaprkich has fully retained their physical integrity that assures their full function as Armenian places of worship. The reconstruction activities carried out at this site are all part of the history of the monuments in question, and represent their genuine architectural styles.

There are two bulks of documents bearing testimony on the authenticity of this monument in Iran. The first group is the inscriptions carved on different surfaces and panels of the church giving undoubted dating points for the chronology. In addition to this, the monuments were repaired in several periods, and each part displays the style of its time. There is no doubt about the authenticity of architectural and artistic styles used in the construction of the church. Other bulk of documents consists of contemporary histories and primary sources, and travellers’ accounts. Generally, it can be said that the monastery of St. Amenaprkich has preserved the main features of its architecture for more than several centuries thanks to its sacredness and popularity among common people. Moreover, it has transferred all of its values powerfully to future generations. Actually, only a few historical and cultural ensembles still remain standing without suffering major structural damages. This fact alone can clearly reflect the rare gift of its designers and builders as well as the full respect shown by its lovers in different periods of time. On the whole, it can be concluded that the monastery of St. Amenaprkich has kept its authenticity in various aspects.

Comparison with other similar properties

The monastery of St. Amenaprkich in new Julfa use different types of Architectural elements and construction materials depending on the region where it is located. It has been considerably influenced by traditional Iranian architecture which uses mud-brick and baked brick extensively; this is the case for most of the Armenian churches and monastic ensembles in Isfahan. The proposed monastery for the nomination has the exceptional advantage of being built on typical plan of Armenian churches; it is, moreover, use the traditional construction materials of the region. Therefore, the comparative analysis of the properties will be presented in the form of an architectural survey of the monuments in question and their artistic aspects in comparison with other similar monuments.

All of the Armenian churches on the north west of Iran, Armenia and north east of Turkey in question use the traditional stone as the basic construction material. But the main structure of Vank Cathedral on Isfahan was made by bricks. The use of tufa and sandstone is common in most of the Armenian constructions in that regions. In this regard, all of the Armenian churches on the north west of Iran (St. Thaddeus, St. Stepanos, and Dzordzor) have same architectural type with Armenia and north east of Turky and they are comparable with other ancient monuments in Armenia (Etchmiadzin, Khor Virap, Naravank, Tatev, Geghard and others) and eastern Anatolia (Aghtamar, Anni, saint Bartholomew and others).

The domical method of construction governs most of the Armenian churches in north-western Iran, Armenia, and eastern Turkey. The nominated church also has its own dome, which is different from the dome of other Armenian churches and is more like a dome of Islamic mosques in the central plateau of Iran.

As a matter of fact, the shape of buildings and construction materials used by Armenians in Armenia proper and in Iran was quite different in accordance with the local terrain. Stone was the main construction material used in Armenia and northwestern Iran but its absence in New Julfa region made the Armenian architects to look for alternatives which occasionally led to the imitation of their Safavid counterparts. As an example among the gilded decorations beneath the dome of St. Amenaprkich, arabesque and floral patterns are seen which have been borrowed from the decorative art of Iranian mosques and palaces.

By adapting their architectural art with the circumstances of the time, Armenian architects of New Julfa managed to create peerless masterpieces because they built churches similar to those in Armenia and Old Julfa regarding plan and religious aspects but externally quite different from the Armenian architectural style and more like an Iranian style. The combination of these two factors generated exceptional buildings such as the monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank). Unparalleled in other parts of the world. It is evident that Armenian architects not only succeeded in overcoming existing problems but also created an innovative architectural style which lasted until early Qajar times and was imitated by nearby regions.

Another characteristic of Isfahan churches is the shape of their roof cover and their domes which are double-shelled in contrast to Armenian churches which they have single-shelled domes with equal external and internal sizes. Another interesting point is that Iranian architects have managed to mount Iranian-styled domes upon plans conforming to Armenian-styled domes in such a manner that they have remained stable even after 400 years. As mentioned before, external façade of the monastery of St. Amenaprkich . It is very different from its counterparts in Old Julfa or the Armenian region in Caucasia because it is plain and only has panels similar to those in Isfahan homes.

The basilica type is used in most of the chapels, and at the St. Mary chapel (Dzordzor). This is the earliest type of plan ever known in Armenia for the construction of churches. The old church of St. Thaddeus or the Black Church had been built on an inserted Greek cross plan, which consisted of a Greek cross surmounted by a cupola. This kind of plan is typical of the early churches, but retained its popularity all over the early and late medieval period. The Main Church or the White Church at St. Thaddeus has been inspired by the plan of the cathedral at Etchmiadzin. It consists of a central plan surmounted by a cupola, but it has three apses instead of the usual four. The central plan, using again an inscribed Greek cross, was typical of the regions of the Byzantine Empire. The Armenian architects seem to take advantage of such a plan, which can be constructed as a block, to solve the stability problem of the massive stone structures of the building, notably the charge of stone domes. From an aesthetical point of view, the grouping of the mass of buildings around a central dome gives a vertical impression; for the eye is gradually drawn upwards towards the central culminating dome.

In general, the form of the big church at St. Stepanos follows narrowly the Armenian tradition used in the region of Julfa and eastern Anatolia. The plan of the church at Varak near Van, built in 981, represents an early type of the triple-apse plan inserted into a rectangular building. The church at Vorodno, in Siyunik region of Armenia, built in the 11th century, displays a similar plan. The form of the tambour of the big church can be compared with the domes built at St. Heripsimeh and Aghtamar in Armenia. Other comparable constructions are at the church of St. Gevorg, in Mughni, in Cilicia, and at Agulis or ancient Ghoghtan, in Nakhjavan. All of these buildings were equally inspired by the Persian system of barrel vaulting used in Sasanian constructions. It is true that the main church at St. Thaddeus was greatly enlarged and remodelled after the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin in Armenia (the seat of the Armenian See and a site which is currently on UNESCO's World Heritage List).

Another characteristic of Vank ensemble is the presence of beautiful wall paintings on its interior. This kind of decoration has had a great effect on the architecture of Armenian churches after 17th century. Previously no church in the northwestern Iran boasted any decorations on its internal walls and only had stone-carvings on their external walls. The most comprehensive collection of wall paintings in the New Julfa of Isfahan belongs to the monastery ensemble of the monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank). Here artists belonging to the Armenian community drew fine paintings adopted from biblical accounts and inspired by European styles in particular Italian. Reputation of some of these artists even spread out of the borders of Iran, for example a painter by the name of Astvatsadour was invited to Moscow in 1667 CE and stayed there for thirty years decorating the walls of the Kremlin Palace.

The St. Amenaprkich interior is completely different from the other monasteries in northwestern Iran. In fact, the interior of the Cathedral is generally covered with astonishing paintings that can be described as the masterpiece of Armenian art. The interior is covered with fine frescos and gilded carvings and includes a wainscot of rich tile work. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of the creation of the world and man's expulsion from Eden. Pendentives throughout the church are painted with a distinctly Armenian motif of a cherub's head surrounded by folded wings. The ceiling above the entrance is painted with delicate floral motifs in the style of Persian miniature. Two sections, or bands, of murals run around the interior walls: the top section depicts events from the life of Jesus, while the bottom section depicts tortures inflicted upon Armenian martyrs by the Ottoman Empire.

Another difference between Isfahan churches and churches located in Old Julfa and Armenia is the usage of Koochnak in them. Initially these churches had no bell house because no bell was available; instead the sound of strokes on a large stick called Koochnak actually invited local people into the church for prayers. At present a fine specimen of the stick is held at Saint Catarnieh church. The first church equipped with a bell was Saint Toma which later became known as the chiming church. Subsequently all Isfahan churches including St. Amenaprkich monastery was equipped with bell houses in the style of Armenian architecture.

Instead of using stone, Iranian and Armenian artisans and architects used bricks and mud bricks in the construction of New Julfa churches including the monastery of St. Amenaprkich creating a new style in the religious architecture of Armenians. In the New Julfa, architecture besides painting, fresco, visual arts and manuscript illumination laid the foundation of a new school. The monastery of St. Amenaprkich is a specimen in which Armenian church-building characteristics have been preserved (particularly concerning the designing of plans) but simultaneously it is in sharp contrast to other Armenian churches located in northwestern Iran regarding the façade so that with its oblong cubic shape and its elliptical domes, Vank bears a striking resemblance to mosques from an external point of view. All the churches of Armenia have been constructed with stone and naturally their decorations have also been executed in stone but in the New Julfa district of Isfahan particularly in the monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank) ensemble excellent decorations of stucco and plasterworks are seen. Therefore, it can be concluded that following the arrival of Armenians to Isfahan, they embarked on building and decorating churches under the inspiration of Iranian art. But their painting was substantially rooted in Old Julfa traditions and has excelled by following a European artistic trend although with an Iranian trace. As a result, Armenian artistic paintings dating from the 17th and 8th centuries incline towards European styles especially those belonging to Italy and Holland while keeping their own identity. Indeed, their shading and coloring is a mixture of Iranian, Armenian and European methods.

The monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank) and other churches standing in New Julfa serve as a testimony to the fact that Armenians were certainly talented and artistically gifted craftsmen because for the former residents of Old Julfa in northwestern Iran replacing bricks with stone should have been no easy task but they managed to build their churches with the help of Iranian builders sent by Shah Abbas for guiding them. Gradually they excelled at the art and produced splendid gilded stuccoworks and ceramic inscriptions, even it can be claimed that ceramic inscriptions of New Julfa churches especially the monastery of St. Amenaprkich (New Julfa Vank) are among the best examples of their kind dating from the Safavid period. It is noteworthy that the combination of Armenian and Iranian arts has reached a climax in the construction and decoration of New Julfa churches.