Zulpha, which others call Jalpha and Giolpha, is distant from Ispahan toward the South half an hours walk, the River Senderou running almost at
an equal distance between the two Cities. The way that leads from one
City to another is a Walk some fifteen hundred Paces long, and seventy
broad, almost equally divided by the River. (..)
The River of Senderou, which as well as the rest of the Rivers of Persia, except
the Aras (which today marks the border between Iran and Armenia/Azerbaijan), is not able to carry a Boat, is a very great relief to Ispahan. (..)
The bridge which croses the walk bears the name of
Alywardi-Kan, who caus'd it to be built, being also call'd the Bridge of Zulfa.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier - Travels through Turkey and Persia (1630s-1660s)
Dusk was falling when I reached the College of the Mother of the Shah and I emerged into the Char Bagh, Shah Abbas' avenue. I drove beneath the double line of trees to the bridge of Ali Verdi Khan, which carries the road to Shiraz. The bridge encloses the road by arched walls, on the outside of which runs a miniature arcade for foot passengers. This was crowded with people, and all the town was hurrying to join them; there was never such a flood in living memory.
Robert Byron - The Road to Oxiana - Macmillan 1937 (piece written in February 1934).
Zayandeh Rud is the largest river of the Persian tableland. It originates in the Zagros Mountains, west of Isfahan, at ca 4,000m/13,000 ft and it empties into a seasonal salt lake east of the city. A dam completed in 1972 routes most of the water to Isfahan via conduits, but even before the dam was built, maadies, small canals, diverted the water for irrigation purposes and the riverbed was dry for most of the year.
Illustration from "Jean Chardin, Journal du voyage du Chevalier Chardin en Perse - 1686" showing the pedestrian galleries and the arches of Si-o-Seh Bridge
It is built of good Brick joyn'd together with Free-stone, and very level, not being higher in the middle than at either end. It is not above three hundred and fifty paces long and twenty broad, being supported by several small Arches of Stone which are very low. Of each side there is a Gallery eight or nine foot broad which runs from one end to the other, several Arches twenty-five or thirty foot high supporting the Platform, where when the heat is not extream, they that please may walk for the sake of the fresh Air. But the most usual passage is under the Galleries, where there are several out lets upon the River to let in the fresh Air. For the Galleries are very high from the level of the Bridge. (..) This Bridge is truly a very neat piece of Architetture, if I may not say the neatest in all Persia. Tavernier
Allahverdi Khan (1560-1613) was a Persian general and statesman of Georgian origin who, initially a ghulam ("military slave"), rose to high office at the court of Shah Abbas. He was involved in the design of the new city centre to which the bridge provided a grand entrance. Ghulams were forcibly recruited among the children of Christian Armenian/Georgian families. They directly reported to the Shah and they made up his personal guard. The creation of a large standing corps of ghulams was one of the steps taken by Shah Abbas to reorganize his army. He imitated the Ottoman sultans who already employed janissaries, personal guards of Christian origin.
(above) Pol-e Jui Bridge (east of Si-o-Seh Bridge); (below) a modern tea house on a river island
Pol-e Jui Bridge was built in 1657 by Shah Abbas II to directly link the main royal compound with other royal pavilions and gardens south of the river (these are entirely lost). In particular the bridge was used by the harem women to attend celebrations taking place on the river. Its name means Rivulet Bridge because of a watercourse running at its centre which proves it was an integrated element of the royal compound.
There are also three other Bridges upon the River, one above the Bridge of Zulfa, and two below. (..) The first of the other two Bridges below was built by Sha-Abas the second, Father of the present King. It is almost equal to it in Structure, but it has one particular beauty, which is a hexagonal place in the middle of the Bridge, which causes the Water to fall in that part with a pleasing noise. Tavernier
The bridge was built by Shah Abbas II in 1650. Khaju means court/courtier and it indicates that the Shah and his court and guests attended ceremonies on this bridge in a central pavilion.
Khaju Bridge resembles a weir more than a bridge. During occasional floods water could flow across its lower arches, but for most of the year the water level did not exceed the base of the pylons. Sluice gates could be closed to form a small lake between this and Pol-e Jui Bridge.
Khaju Bridge - central pavilion
Persian and European chronicles describe festivities held at the bridge, which was decorated with lights and flowers. People gathered at the bridge to watch fireworks, boat races and parades, in particular during Nowruz celebrations. The Islamic calendar is tied to lunar phases and its New Year is not associated with the beginning of a season. Nowruz is the solar New Year celebration and is linked with the spring equinox. Persian rulers strictly adhering to Islamic precepts have tried to suppress it, but with no success. It was already a major festivity in the VIth century BC as the reliefs of Persepolis indicate.
Zulfa, a Colony of Armenians which Sha-Abas brought from Zulfa a City of Armenia, is so much encreas'd for some years since, that it may now pass for a large City, being almost a League and a half long, and near upon half as much broad. (..) The Houses are generally better built, and more chearful than those of Ispahan. (..) Neither was Sha-Abas' so cruel in transplanting the Armenians away out of their own Country for they were all at that season poor labouring men, who knew not at all what belong'd to Trade. Since that time they are grown very rich: so that the Armenians have no cause to be covetous of the Habitations of their Ancestors. (..) And indeed the Armenians are so much the more fit for Trading, because they are a people very sparing, and very sober; though whether it be their virtue or their avarice, I know not. Tavernier
Victoria and Albert Museum in London: Armenian church vestment probably from Julfa ca 1650
In Isfahan itself there are no missionaries among the Mahommedans, but some are to be found at Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, on the south bank of the Zindah-rud. Julfa was in former days a prosperous Armenian settlement of some 30,000 inhabitants, but is now mostly in ruins since the great migration of Armenians to India. There is an Armenian Archbishop at Julfa. He has no real power, but is much revered by the Armenians themselves. He provides priests for the Armenians of India. A handsome cathedral, with elaborate ornamentations and allegorical pictures, is one of the principal structures in Julfa. One cannot help admiring the Armenians of Julfa for retaining their conservative customs so long. Within the last few years, however, rapid strides have been made towards the abandonment of the ancient dress and tongue. At Julfa the Armenians have to a great extent retained their native language, which they invariably speak among themselves, although many of the men are equally fluent in Persian.
Henry Savage Landor - Across Coveted Lands - 1902. The writer was an English painter, explorer and anthropologist (1865-1924).
Armenian Museum: (left-above) 1667 stone water vessel similar to those found in mosques; (right-above) relief with the typical Armenian cross (another Armenian cross can be seen in the image used as background for this page);
(below) French inscription on the tombstone of a Russian viceconsul
In 1603 Shah Abbas started the first of a series of campaigns against the Ottomans to win back the territories he and his predecessors had lost during the XVIth century. He captured Yerevan (the capital of today's Republic of Armenia). When he received news that an Ottoman army was preparing to move towards the town, he decided to avoid battle, and ordered retreat by destroying and depopulating the villages and towns which the Ottoman army had to cross. Shah Abbas decided to relocate this large multitude of refugees to the provinces around his capital to promote agriculture, crafts and trade. For this reason he deported the inhabitants of Julfa, a town on the banks of the Aras river. Only a fraction of them arrived at Isfahan where they settled in a new quarter named after their town of origin.
The King names whom he pleases among the Armenians to be their Chief; whom
they call Kelmter, who judges all their differences, and taxes them to make up the
Sum which they are to pay to the King every year.
There are in Zalpha fifteen or sixteen Churches and Chappels of the Armenian,
among which you are to count two Nunneries for Women. Tavernier
Holy Saviour Cathedral, locally known as the Vank (monastery in Armenian) Cathedral was begun in 1606 and completed in 1664. The contrast between its external and internal decoration is striking. Armenians had to comply with the Muslim rule which does not allow djimmis (Christians and Jews) to exhibit their infidelity in the face of Islam, so the exterior of the cathedral was void of decoration, whereas not an inch of the interior was not gilded or painted (for another example of Christian interior decoration in a Muslim country you may wish to see the monastery of Sumela in Turkey). From a legal point of view the treatment of the Armenians of Julfa was broadly similar to that which was in place in the Ottoman Empire.
Italian-style paintings: (left) at the entrance to Vank Cathedral; (right) in the Armenian Museum
There is an Armenian cathedral a Julfa across the river, which resembles a Mohammadan shrine of the XVIIth century. Inside, the walls are covered with oil paintings in the Italian tradition of that date. Attached to it is a museum, but the treasures are of historic rather than artistic interest. Byron
Pietro della Valle, an Italian traveller who visited Isfahan in 1616 noted that Italian paintings were on sale at Gheisarieh Bazaar. In addition Dutch painters worked at the Isfahan court, so it was not difficult for the Armenians to buy paintings of a Christian subject. The community went through hard times, but persecutions were mainly aimed at extorting money, rather than at forcing conversions to Islam. Similar to the Zoroastrians who lived near Julfa, many left for India where a tiny Armenian community still exists at Kolkata (Calcutta).
Robert Byron took many photographs during his 1933-1934 journey through Persia and Afghanistan. He was mainly interested in architecture and a selection of his photos at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London shows many details of domes, portals, minarets, etc. This view of a ruining Seljuk mausoleum in a cemetery near Julfa is rather an exception because of its evocative atmosphere. Byron hated all which could be labelled as picturesque.
Takht Fulad Cemetery and Baba Rokn-od Din Mausoleum
In the past Takht Fulad was the largest cemetery of Isfahan, but its size has been greatly reduced by the development of the city and it is now surrounded by large avenues and lofty apartment blocks and the location of a gigantic musalla, an open air mosque. The remaining section has been redesigned and it houses many recent graves while the old mausoleum (XIIIth century) has been given a tile decoration which most likely it never had in the past.
Takht Fulad Cemetery - Rokn-ol Molk Mosque: (left) portal; (right) prayer hall
In the 1720s Isfahan lost its role as the Persian capital and few other monuments were built there afterwards. Rokn-al-Molk Mosque was built at the end of the XIXth century, presumably to provide the cemetery with a modern mosque. Its portal has an elaborate tile decoration with a mix of colours which departs from the traditional one. Because the size of the prayer hall is pretty small, the courtyard is covered with carpets for the Friday noon prayer.
Takht Fulad Cemetery - Rokn-ol Molk Mosque - courtyard
Pasargadae and Persepolis
Achaemenid Tombs and Sassanid Reliefs
Seljuk small towns (Ardestan, Zavareh and Abarquh)
XIVth century Yazd
XVIIIth century Shiraz
On the Road
An excursion to Abyaneh
People of Iran
and in another section on Iranian Azerbaijan:
Tabriz: The Blue Mosque
Tabriz: Azerbaijan Museum