Matenadaran, a treasure trove of ancient manuscripts in Yerevan, Armenia

A year ago this month I was in Armenia. It was my first visit to the country and I absolutely loved it. It felt relatively undiscovered. Even at its most famous sites I found myself in the company of locals, not tourists.

Like the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts. Set in an imposing grey building looking down Yerevan’s grandest avenue, it’s the repository of the most important books and manuscripts in Armenian history. There’s a picture of the statue of Mesrop Mashtots out the front of the building in the gallery below. He invented the Armenian alphabet.

Simply known as the Matenadaran (book depository), it is a great place to wander around and have a look at some of the most beautiful and important books in the world. From bibles and medical texts to philosophical tomes and high literature, these manuscripts are a reminder of the country’s leading role in science, politics, medicine and literature.

They are also beautiful to look at. You’ll find books with elaborate covers of silver and gold and embellished in precious stones. Others are displayed opened to showcase the artistry of the medieval monks that transcribed them. Some are over 1,000 years old.

The books are only a fraction of the collection. The Matenadaran also houses researchers and restorers, supported by grants from the Initiatives for Development of Armenia (IDeA) foundation, who source, restore and catalogue important Armenian books spread across the diaspora.

You can’t borrow them from the library. Indeed, just looking at some of them requires a PhD and a pair of archive-friendly gloves.

Neither of which I possess, sadly.

Website: Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts


A statue of Mesrop Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet, outside the Matenadaran in Yerevan, Armenia.

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