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Culfa (Julfa)


Culfa (Julfa)

The town of Culfa is the only legal crossing point between Iran and Nakhchivan and today's heavy truck traffic follows much the same route as the Mongols took when they stormed through from Tabriz in 1235? By the 16th century Culfa was thriving again, a predominantly Christian craft town whose globetrotting merchants were known in Rome as Chiolfalino.

In 1603 Culfa's mayor, one Xawjay Xalchil, must have made some pretty bad after-dinner conversation while hosting Persian Emperor Shah Abbas - the next year Abbas was back and not as a guest. He had the whole town demolished and deported its skilled craftsmen to beautify his new capital, Isfahan. That Iranian city still has a suburb called 'New Julfa' where, even today, the community maintains their distinctive lifestyle, churches and the Vank Cathedral, whose gruesome murals depict the tortures suffered in maintaining their Christian faith. All that's left of the original Culfa is a large, decapitated turbe and remnants of the former Gulistan graveyard (aka Cuga), once one of the largest medieval Christian cemeteries in the Middle East. Strangely, although pictures of the turbe are featured prominently by the tourist ministry, the site is out of bounds to casual visitors unless specially invited. Visa permitting, it's much easier and less stressful to observe it from across the over on the Iranian side. Modern Culfa, a couple of kilometres further east, has no real attractions and entertainment is limited to multiple police interrogations.


The Church of Saint Stephanus Marand, Julfa East Azerbaijan. This church, located 16 kilometers to the south-east of Julfa, dates back to the 8th century A.H. (14th century A.D.) and after, and is remarkable for its pyramidal roof cover and its facade decorations.
The monument is also known under the name of the church of Darreh Sham.

Chapel in Julfa

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