Among the churches built in the Jolfa District of Isfahan, the magnificent and architecturally significant "Vank" Cathedral on the southern bank of Zayandeh Rud River is the most famous, as the masterly combination of Iranian, Islamic, and European architecture.
Built during the reign of Shah Abbas II of the Safavid Dynasty in 1074, showcasing the peaceful coexistence of all religions, the Vank (in Armenian, “Monastery”) Cathedral is the most important architectural and artistic treasure of the Armenian Christians in Isfahan.
The entrance to the area is marked by a high clock tower donated to the church in 1930. Passing the amazing belfry located on the right of the entrance, one gets to the courtyard of the complex with four sculptures depicting the Armenian famous poets and script inventors.
The ornate, gilded interior of the church features many fine and glorious paintings on the religious themes such as the life of Jesus Christ. The interior is also elaborately decorated with tile work, gilded carvings and tableaus.
The cathedral also has a domed sanctuary much alike an Islamic mosque but with the significant addition of altar within a semi-octagonal apse and raised chancel usually observed in western churches. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of the creation of Adam and Eve as well as their expulsion from Paradise.
The grounds surrounding the Vank church also comprise a remarkable museum and a library, adding to the significance of the site. The two-story museum houses antiquities, relating mainly to the history and religion of the Armenians in Julfa.
The museum contains more than 700 richly illuminated manuscripts and the first book printed in Iran as well as interesting collection of royal orders issued by the Safavid kings regarding Armenian society and their freedom. The museum displays numerous artifacts from the history of the cathedral and the Armenian community in Isfahan.
Likewise, the large library is invaluable for research in Armenian and medieval European languages and arts.
Having said all, this master piece of architecture must be seen to fathom its beauty in depth and testify why the church is considered by many as the most beautiful in Julfa.
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