Iranians and Armenians have long had numerous cultural exchanges throughout history. Iran became the second home for Armenians when Shah Abbas I of Persia forced some Armenians to leave their land to Iran in 1622 CE. Thus, Armenians settled in several cities, and built their own neighborhood and magnificent churches. Three churches in West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan provinces, date back to the 7th to 14th centuries CE, have kept their utter integrity and authenticity. These churches demonstrate the influence of Armenian architecture and decorative arts and their interaction with other regional cultures such as Byzantine, Orthodox, and Persia.
These works were registered in UNESCO World Heritages list in 2008.
Saint Thaddeus Monastery
Situated in the Chaldoran Mountains, The Monastery of Saint Thaddeus or so called Qara Kilisa in Azerbaijani (meaning the black church because of its white and black stones) is the best maintained medieval church in Iran (West Azerbaijan).
According to Armenians, Thaddeus and 3000 of his Armenian followers became massacred by the king of Armenia. But to commemorate, three centuries later a chapel was made for them, when Armenia became to the first Christian nation in the world. Every year at the beginning of summer, Armenians from Iran and Armenia undertake a three-day pilgrimage in this monastery on the martyrdom day of Saint Thaddeus.
This rectangular monastery was seriously damaged after an earthquake in 1319 CE, but it was reconstructed in 1810 CE chiefly with white stones. Saints, angels, and kings are carved inside the monastery.
Saint Stepanos Monastery
In the north-west of Jolfa and close to the Iranian side of the Aras Riverin (East Azerbaijan), the Saint Stepanos Monastery is located in green canyon. Its construction dates back to the 9th century but similar to the Saint Thaddeus monastery, the edifice suffered from the earthquake of 1319 CE and was rebuilt in the Safavid era. Its name is derived from the name of Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity.
The Monastery consists of a cross-shaped main hall adorned with beautiful paintings, and a detailed sanctuary. Red stones are used in the construction of the monastery, the architecture resembles Armenian and Georgian monasteries, and its bell tower is built upon a structure with eight decorated columns which stands on a porch connected to the southern wall.
Chapel of Dzordzor
The Chapel of Dzordzor or so called Holy Mary is situated in West Azerbaijan province on a mountain slope near Maku. The chapel looks minimal and made of carved stones, and windows are decorated with ogee arch columns.
Interestingly the chapel was relocated to a place 600 meters away and 110 meters higher than its primary location following a plan to build a dam in the region. In 1987 CE, this dislocation took 25 days; every single stone was transferred to the target location in accords with scientific principles.