Thursday, 22 June 2017

The 19 Day Iranian Azerbaijan circuit - From the Caspian rives to Tabriz and Takht-e-Soleiman - Day 10 (afternoon and evening) - On the way to Maku; Maku hotel accommodation and city strolling - The 18th of May 2017

The panoramic view on the way to Maku did once more impress me because it  was like one could easily be travelling through different countries within a short period of time. We were in fact fairly close to the Turkish border (22 kilometres) this possibly being one of the reasons regarding this change.


We were again lodged at another two star inn, which didn't differ much from the previous one in terms of quality, but which was as if embedded in the mountain right behind it. As Joelle, Didier and I made it into the town we realised that it was located in a mountain gorge.

We strolled around the main road, as well as the perpendicular commercial streets to get an idea on what sort of traditional local goods were available. We had a few encounters with local vendors who showed some sort of interest on us and who insisted on talking to us. By the time we got back to the hotel I felt I was ready to go to bed ... though I didn't  and later ended up spending some time at the hotel bedroom window admiring the night as it slowly fell down. 


My 19 Day Iranian Azerbaijan circuit - From the Caspian rives to Tabriz and Takht-e Soleiman - Day 10 (morning cont.) - Jolfa -13th century Saint Andreyord Church; Khajeh Nazar Caravanserai - The 18h of May 2017


Upon leaving St. Stepanos's Monastery we stopped briefly by the the beautiful scenary setting where the little and yet rather interesting St. Andreyord church, also known as the Shephers' chapel, is located.
It is believed the Church's surrounding area used to be pasture land where sheherds grazed their flocks though according to another oral tradition two shepherd brothers  are believed to have built two different chapels on either side of the river Arax, one of which would be later destroyed, thus the name for which it is known.
Having been reconstructed in 2015 the Chapel stood  now brave and proudly against the rocky scenary. We had to walk into its interior in small groups and despite not being decorated, with the exception of some Armenian inscriptions on the outside walls and the entrance stone I was impressed ... what with I don't exactly know .... but the religious associated feeling it generated did touch me. 


Because it was lunch time we headed to a Safavid related Caravanserai said to have been established by Khajeh Nazar, an Armenian who was protected by Shah Abbas in his trading endeavours and later appointed as people's sheriff. It was left unfinished due to the untimely death of its founder but the courtyard and the patios were nevertheless impressive.

Before walking into its interior, now turned into a restaurant Moji and I took some photographs, which I particularly like. Once inside we realised we would have to wait for lunch to be brought from some outside kitchen located a few kilometres away, where it had been prepared for us due to the lack of conditions within the caravanserai premises.
We organised ourselves in small groups of four, (in our caseJoelle, Didier, Dominique and myseklf) , and just settled down on the cosy cushion lined cubicles lying down or simply resting whilst we awaited lunch to be brought. I must say it was quite an experience we all enjoyed. 

My 19 Day Iranian Azerbaijan circuit - From the Caspian rives to Tabriz and Takht-e Soleiman - Day 10 (morning) - Jolfa - St. Stepanos Monastery - The 18th of May 2017

I had been looking forward to visiting the Armenian St. Stepanos Monastery since the beginning of the trip and as we walked up the tree-lined alley leading to the main entrance I was  surprised to realise the actual Monastery was surrounded by a fortress with a number of towers.
Once we sat on the  Cathedral's yard listening to Mr. RovillĂ©'s historic explanations before visiting it we were unexpectedly surrounded by people wanting to have their pictures taken with us or showing us children they had or would later baptize in the Cathedral.

Situated in a deep canyon along the Arax river which wouldn't be visible but later the ensemble is siad to have been built in the 9th century having been restored and rebuilt throughout the centuries and namely in the Safavid era. By the 14th and 15th centuries the Monastery was at the height of its cultural influence by producing paintings and illuminated manuscripts in religion, history and philosophy.
16th and 17th  century miniatures were still visible in the central dome of the Cathedral, which owes its name to the first martyr of Christianity, who was stoned and killed for his Christian faith in the 1st century A.D. Many of the exterior walls are ornamented by traditional Armenian stone-crosses and inscriptions in memory of the thousands of Armenian benefactors who supported the Monastery in the course of history.
I was thoroughly impressed by the details of some of those decorations, which is something I had been expecting, having visited several Armenian churches in the past. Some of the stone-crosses depict the stoning of the Saint, whilst others the Annunciation of Virgin Mary and the Crucifixion of Christ among others.

I was equally impressed by its holy cross shaped interior, whose paintings are said to have been carried out by a renowned Armenian artist by the name of Honatanian. 

Once we were outside I tripped over some tombs, as I listened to a gentleman singing a rather sad type of song in a heart-felt way whilst looking up at the sky and inspite of having had my camera fall onto the churchyard managed to use it soon after and as if under a mysteriously spell realised it hadn't got a single scratch on it ("Thank God or St. Stepanos ... otherwise I feel I would have been extremelly upset).
We were given some free time, in which Joelle and I strolled around not knowing exactly where to look, because everything seemed interesting, so after having climbed a pathway behind the actual Monastery so as to get a better view of the ensemble and its location and taken some photographs we decided to walk into the Monastery gift shop, in which I bought a few cards and a rather unique pair of traditional rope and woolen shoes, before heading back to the bus.