Safavid and Portuguese Christian Influence on Saint Stepanos Monastery in Julfa, Iran


  • Mahnaz Shayestehfar



Architecture, Saint Stepanos Monastery, Julfa, Safavid Architecture, Portuguese Christian Architecture, Motifs and Decorative Features


The Monastery of Saint Stepanos, in Julfa, is located in northwestern
Iran, in the province of East Azerbaijan. Whilst the exact
date of construction is unknown, the building displays exceptional
architecture. It is believed that the monastery was built between the
tenth and seventeenth centuries, and this doubt emphasises the need
to investigate the nature of structure and decoration. The Monastery
is situated in a deep canyon beside the Araxes river, on the Iranian
side of the border between Iran and the Nakhichevan Autonomous
Republic in Azerbaijan. It was originally built in the ninth century,
and was rebuilt during the Safavid era after being damaged by wars
and earthquakes. Considering that scholars and travel writers, such as
the French Traveller Taurine, consider the construction of this building
to be from the Safavid period, probing the structural and decorative
similarities of this building with Safavid period architecture can be
a way of dating this outstanding historical monument. During the
Safavid period, the Portuguese arrival on the island of Hormuz in
the Persian Gulf (1515–1622 AD) prepared the ground for the arrival
and activity of European Christians, who spread Christianity and its
culture. One of the earliest consequences of this was the construction
of the Monastery and other Christian architecture. The basic objectives
of the article are to study the influence of Portuguese Christian
architecture on the construction of Saint Stepanos Monastery, and to
investigate the influence of Safavid structural design on its architecture.
The main questions, are what influence has the architecture of Saint
Stepanos Monastery had on Christian architecture in Portugal,
and what influence did the architecture the Monastery have on the
architecture of the Safavid period?
This research for this article is descriptive and analytical based on
historical information, available documents and existing images. An
examination of the architectural similarities between Saint Stepanos

Monastery in Julfa and Christian architecture in Portugal is essential
for a more accurate understanding of the Monastery.


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Author Biography

Mahnaz Shayestehfar

Dr Mahnaz Shayestehfar holds a PhD in Islamic Art from the
University of Birmingham, UK, and is an Associate Professor,
and director of, the Department of Islamic Art at Tarbiat Modares
University, Tehran, Iran. Her teaching background is in Islamic Art.
Dr Shayestehfar has been the managing director and editor-in-chief
of two quarterly science journals on Islamic art studies since 2004.