Matenadaran

The Matenadaran, the pride of Armenian culture and the world's largest repository of ancient manuscriptswas established on the basis of the collection of manuscripts of the Echmiadzin Monastery, nationalized in 1920.The formation of the collection dates back to V century and is associated with the name of the creator of the Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mashtots (361-440). In ancient Armenian “Matenadaran” means “repository of manuscripts”.The Matenadaran, a Scientific and Research Institute of ancient manuscripts, opened on March 1, 1959, contains over 17000 ancient manuscripts and 100000 ancient archival documents.In addition to 13000 Armenian manuscripts, over 2000 manuscripts in Old Slavonic, Latin, Arabic, Hindi, Syriac, Greek, Japanese, Persian and other languages are preserved here.The collection of the Matenadaran is a valuable scientific and historical base used to study the history and culture of Armenia, as well as neighboring nations of the Caucasus and Middle East. The Institute contains manuscripts of V-XVIII centuries, as well as a unique collection of early printed books and incunabula of XVI-XVIII centuries, documents written by ancient and medieval Armenian historians, philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, geographers and physicians. There are also translations of ancient Greek, Syrian, Arab and Latin scholars, including a number of works that are not preserved in the language these were originally written. Numerous specimens of ancient Armenian literature and miniatures are exhibited in the Institute’s museum.

 

The Matenadaran is of particular importance as an art museum, where a unique collection of portrait paintings and the kinds of arts and crafts that are associated with the art of manuscript are exhibited: fabric samples, embossed leather, metal and plastic objects and jewelry. It is simply breathtaking, when you look at the fine old miniatures, which are painted using organic and herbal colors: lapis lazuli, juices of plants and, of course, the famous "vordan karmir," which was prepared from the Ararat cochineal pigments, worms that can be found only in the Ararat valley.

 

In the main exposition hall of the Matenadaran, which was built based on the architectural design of the cave Geghard Monastery, you can see the first Armenian translation of the Bible, the first Armenian Code of Laws and the first Armenian legal Code of Criminal and Civil Laws, drafted in late X century by Mkhitar Gosh. At the next stand you can find the philosophical works of David Anhaght (Invincible) from the second half of V century, where he gives the scientific definition of “philosophy”. Here is the famous history of Armenia from X century BC to V century AD, written by Movses Khorenatsi in chronological order. Here also are the alphabets of the peoples of the  ancient world and Middle Ages, the geography of the great scientist and encyclopedist of VII century Anania Shirakatsi, where he described in detail the three well-known at the time continents - Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as his theory of the Earth’s sphericity. One can hardly list all the treasures: geometry translation by Euclid, medical textbooks by Mkhitar Heratsi, the first information about the Armenian theater in Tigranakert (69 BC). The ancient Armenian notes (“khazer”) from VII century are preserved here; the secrets of decoding of “khazer” were lost in XVI century.  Here you can also find the collection of songs of gusan Sayat Nova, as well as the letter of Khachatur Abovyan to the Catholicos requesting permission for climbing the holy Mount Ararat with the German physicist Parrot. In the Matenadaran you can see firsthand the invaluable manuscript of the famous poet and lyric St. Gregory of Narek, the “Book of Lamentations” (“Matian Voghbergutian”).

 

The largest and the smallest of Armenian manuscripts are in this hall of the museum. The largest book weighs 28 kg, amazingly grandiose and massive; it is a collection of Mush religious orations, written during three years and completed in 1202. Each page of the book was made from the skin of a two-month old calf; 660 calfskins were used for the whole book. The smallest book weighs 19 gr. It’s a church calendar of XVI century. Each piece of it is made from the skin of a lamb embryo.

 

The second hall, built based on the architectural design of Haghpat Monastery, is for thematic temporary exhibitions.

 

The building itself was constructed in the spirit of traditions of national architecture of XII – XIII centuries. The sculptures of Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet, as well as other prominent thinkers of ancient Armenia, such as Movses Khorenatsi, Anania Shirakatsi, Mkhitar Gosh, Toros Roslin, Frick and Gregory Tatevatsi are erected in front of the building.