In 1606, Persian Shah Abbas the First forced 150,000 Armenians to completely abandon their flourishing city of Jugha under penalty of death. He moved them into the heart of Persia (now Iran), hoping to harness their entrepreneurial and artisanal skills for his empire. In the same year, an edict of the shah established New Julfa, on what was then the outskirts of Isfahan.
The construction of Vank Cathedral began immediately after. The building’s structure combines traditional Armenian architectural styles with the region’s Islamic architecture. The resulting church has rich frescoes and tile work, as do some of the other Armenian churches in New Julfa.
Vank Cathedral also has a library and museum, which includes an Armenian book that was the first book ever printed in Iran, as well as edicts by Abbas I and other shahs forbidding interference with or persecution of the Armenians.
New Julfa is undergoing a rise in popularity with young people who visit some of the many cafes. There are a total of 16 Armenian churches in the district today, plus an Armenian school and community center.