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The Matenadaran is an Armenian museum that is dedicated to housing manuscripts of all forms and languages. Situated in the country’s capital, Yerevan, the Matenadaran has existed in various forms and locations since the fifth century A.D. and was first housed permanently in Yerevan in 1959. It contains documents and fragments written in Armenian as well as other languages, such as Greek, Turkish, Russian and Farsi.
Matenadaran literally means “manuscript store” or “library” in Armenian and was first recorded during the fifth century by the historian Ghazar Parpetsi. This was located in the city of Echmiadzin, which is modern day Vagharshapat. Little is known of its history during the following millennium, but by 1441, the manuscript collection was moved from Sis — Kozan in Turkey — in the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia back to Echmiadzin by the highest-ranking archbishop of the Armenian Church.
Seljuk Turks destroyed an estimated 10,000 documents during the Mongol-Turkic invasions of the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Other wars featuring a variety of combatants also took their tolls on the collection. Relative stability and sanctuary arrived with Armenia’s incorporation into the Russian Empire. After being evacuated to Moscow during the World War I, the Matenadaran returned to Yerevan in 1920, where it was housed in the Aleksandr Myasnikyan State Library.
The modern Matenadaran was built in 1959 on Mesrop Mashtots Avenue in Yerevan. It was designed so it faced southwest, toward Mount Ararat. This is important to Armenians because Ararat is a sacred mountain in Armenian nationalism. Many Judeo-Christians also believe that Ararat was the final resting place of Noah’s ark.
A number of statues sit outside the main building. The most prominent of these is the statue of Mashtots, also known as Saint Mesrob, the fifth-century Armenian King who invented the Armenian alphabet. Other statues include those of Gosh, Korun and Shirakatsi. An adjacent building was built between 2008 and 2011, thanks to private funding to house modern storage facilities and offices. In 2011, the main building became dedicated to displaying manuscripts only.
Manuscripts sit preserved in display cabinets behind a pair of embossed copper doors. The doors display scenes from the battle of Avarayr in 451 A.D. Behind these doors, three other historical depictions form a triptych that greets visitors.
The permanent collection of the Matenadaran includes about 17,000 manuscripts and fragments written in Armenian and about 30,000 other documents. Many of these have been preserved by Armenians during the peoples’ history. Others have been recovered from libraries and depositories around the world.
Examples of these manuscripts include the Vehamor gospel and a church calendar dating to 1434. The Vehamor gospel dates to the seventh century, and the calendar is no bigger than a passport photograph. Another prominent document is the Msho Charentir, which is 1,208 pages long and was completed by Vardan Aigektsi in 1202.