Culfa (Julfa) Travel Guide

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Teyvaz village, Culfa

Teyvaz village, Culfa


Julfa is a border town on the southern part of the Nakhchivan exclave. It is pleasantly  located on the left bank of the river Araz, in front of its sister town across the river: Jolfa in the Iranian province of Central Azerbaijan.

North of the town, on the south slopes of the Daridaq range are located the famous Daridaq springs. Their water contains iodine and cyanide, being used for medical purposes. Nearby arsenic deposits are also found.

Today's town is but a shadow of its past. Julfa was an important cultural and  trade centre, located in an area that had both muslim and christian towns. Julfa was part of the ancient caravan routes, then known by its Armenian name - Jugha.  However the wars between Turkey and Persia during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries brought a lot of suffering to the region. Julfa's region was given to Persia in 1555 by the treaty of Amasia, being recaptured by the Turks in 1570-90.

Persia under Shah Abas I tried to regain the area, conquering large extents of territory in 1603. Even through these events, Julfa managed to survive.

It had a population of over 20.000 souls. A Portuguese traveller, by the name of Belchior, was in Julfa in 1604, reporting a large thriving town with Christian population.

But 1604 was to be Julfa's meeting with its fate. Shah Abas realized that he could no longer defend his conquests against superior Turkish forces and ordered a retreat. Just weeks after Belchior's visit, the Shah ordered not only a military retreat, but also the en masse deportation of Julfa's citizens and the burning of the town. The population was taken to Isphahan, were Julfa's artisans became famous in the grand constructions promoted by Shah Abas. In Isphahan they created a new settlement known as 'Nor Jugha', or 'New Julfa', which still subsists today as a Christian enclave in Muslim Isphahan. The odyssey of these Julfans is well depicted in the murals of Isphahan's Vank Cathedral

Julfa proper was left to be devastated by invaders, plunderers, nature and time itself. For a long time it had a small population made of muslim people who came from the neighbouring villages. Large sections of old Julfa were destroyed in the first years of the 20th century to build a railway line.

Old Julfa is locallly known as 'Cuga'. Today you can still imagine Julfa's former grandeur, visiting what's left of the Andreordi, Pobloz and St. Astvadsadsin churches, the main caravanserai, the 10th century fortress,  the remains of the bridge across the Aras, the 13th century Gulistan 'turbe' and the vast cemetery with thousands of artistically sculpted tomb stones known as 'Khachkars'. Outside old Julfa, in a mountain gorge, don't miss also the 13th century Amenaprkich monastery.

Present day Julfa was founded only in 1848, about 2 kilometres east from ruined old town. In modern Julfa there is not much to see, the mosque is pleasant and the train station is rather exuberant (there are rail services to Nakhchivan city). The very basic Soviet hotel is near the station.

Today Julfa is again growing in importance, as the main crossing point between Nakhichevan and Iran, both for rail and road traffic (it is served by rail since 1906) .

If you wish to cross into Iran, expect long delays at the border, however entering Iran is now a lot easier than a few years ago (see Iranian visas ). The Iranian government is quite eager for the Euros brought in by the tourists, although they still prefer 'package tours' to independent travellers. Anyway, if you are looking for a place to stay there is a nice guest house in Jolfa, which is a lot better than the hotel in Julfa. If you cross the border do not miss the church of St. Stephan, before you head further south.

(450 km southwest of Baku)

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at:


April 16, 2006 new by azerbaijan08

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