When one comes comes into the complex of the Vank Cathedral, Isfahan, it stands apart due to its plain exterior. The yellow brickwork used reminds one of modern structures like libraries, the exterior (except the bell tower) suggest nothing that it is a Cathedral, that too one from the 1655. I love being in places such as these where one experiences the mixing of architectural styles and building methods, to me it suggests a community that built together, and exchanged ideas to evolve further.
The Vank Cathedral is in the Jolfa District of Isfahan, this is the Armenian Christian quarter of Isfahan which was established in 1603 during Shah Abbas I Safavid. The Jolfa names comes from a town existent in Azarbaijan in the 15th century, from where Shah Abbas imported the families to Isfahan. The new settlers first erected a monastery for their priests, and 50 years later the present cathedral was built on the same site. The cathedral was completed in 1664 C.E.
The architectural style is a combination of Syrian Christian, example as in the pediment at one of the entrance, after which one walks though the Islamic arches leading into the central space covered by pendentive domes. The semi- octagonal apse is a western feature retained in the cathedral, probably suggesting a symbolic connection to the octagonal baptistery from early churches.
The area surrounding the cathedral also includes a bell-tower, erected in 1702, a printing press, founded by Bishop Khachatoor, a library established in 1884, and a museum which was opened in 1905 and which contains many historical objects and manuscripts, including a historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran.
Unlike the exterior the interior is ornate, and covered in bright coloured frescos and murals. The wall are covered in stories from the bible, typical of the orthodox Christian church styles. Pendentives throughout the church are painted with a distinctly Armenian motif of a cherub’s head surrounded by folded wings.
Apart from the paintings which are imitations of Italian styles, the architecture and all the decorations are totally Iranian. In some stucco work one see 17th century western influences, like the broken pediment.