Christian Iranians living in the city of Jolfa in central Iranian province of Isfahan, like other Christian cities across the globe, are preparing themselves for the beginning of the new Christian year.
This year, as always, the Vank Cathedral, built in 1606 in Isfahan’s Christian Jolfa district, will celebrate Christmas on January 6.
The cathedral is one of the most important places of worship in the district, and a few days before the holiday, a number of Christmas trees and two statues of Santa Claus are installed in its courtyard. Also present is a live Santa Claus who takes pictures with visitors and wished them a happy holiday.
Christmas is also visible in the streets and alleys around the cathedral. Most shops are decorated with Christmas trees, Santa Claus dolls and other new year decorations.
New Julfa (literally Jolfa quarter of Isfahan) is the Armenian quarter of Isfahan, located along the south bank of the river Zayandeh River.
Established by Armenians from Julfa, Nakhichevan in the early 17th century, it is still one of the oldest and largest Armenian quarters in the world.
New Julfa was established in 1606 as an Armenian quarter by edict of Shah Abbas I, the influential shah from the Safavid dynasty. Over 150,000 Armenians were moved there from Julfa in Nakhichevan.
All history accounts agree that, as the residents of Julfa were famous for their silk trade, Shah Abbas treated the population well and hoped that their resettlement in Isfahan would be beneficial to Persia.
New Julfa is still an Armenian-populated area with an Armenian school and sixteen churches, including Surp Amenaprgitch Vank, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, and undoubtebly one of the most beautiful churches in Iran.
Armenians in New Julfa observe Iranian law with regard to clothing, but otherwise retain a distinct Armenian language, identity cuisine, and culture.
The policy of the Safavids was very tolerant towards the Armenians as compared to other minorities, such as the Iranian Georgians and Circassians.
According a reference by David Petrosyan of the Institute for Central Asian and Caucasian studies, New Julfa had between 10,000-12,000 Armenian inhabitants in 1998. As of today it is still one of the largest ethnic Armenian quarters in the world.
Popular with young people in Isfahan, it is experiencing considerable growth compared to other districts.