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An aerial view of the Matenadaran showing its main/old (center) and new (upper right) buildings
EstablishedMarch 3, 1959; 65 years ago (March 3, 1959)[1]
Location53 Mashtots Avenue, Kentron District, Yerevan, Armenia
Coordinates40°11′31″N 44°31′16″E / 40.19207°N 44.52113°E / 40.19207; 44.52113
TypeArt museum, archive, research institute
Collection size~23,000 manuscripts and scrolls (including fragments)[2]
Visitors132,600 (2019)[3]
DirectorArayik Khzmalyan
ArchitectMark Grigorian, Arthur Meschian
OwnerGovernment of Armenia, Ministry of Education and Science[4]

The Matenadaran (Armenian: Մատենադարան), officially the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts,[a] is a museum, repository of manuscripts, and a research institute in Yerevan, Armenia. It is the world's largest repository of Armenian manuscripts.[5]

It was established in 1959 on the basis of the nationalized collection of the Armenian Church, formerly held at Etchmiadzin. Its collection has gradually expanded since its establishment, mostly from individual donations. One of the most prominent landmarks of Yerevan, it is named after Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, whose statue stands in front of the building. Its collection is included in the register of the UNESCO Memory of the World program.


The word matenadaran is a compound composed of matean, ("book" or "parchment") and daran ("repository"). Both words are of Middle Persian origin.[6] Though it is sometimes translated as "scriptorium" in English,[7] a more accurate translation is "repository or library of manuscripts."[8][9][b] In medieval Armenia, the term matenadaran was used in the sense of a library as all books were manuscripts.[16][c]

Some Armenian manuscript repositories around the world are still known as matenadaran, such as the ones at the Mekhitarist monastery in San Lazzaro, Venice[17] and the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople,[18] and the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Manuscript Depository at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.[19] To distinguish it from others, it is often referred to as the Matenadaran of Yerevan,[23] the Yerevan Matenadaran,[24][25] or the Mashtots Matenadaran[26][27] (Մաշտոցյան Մատենադարան).


Historic predecessors

The earliest mention of a manuscript repository in Armenia was recorded in the writings of the fifth century historian Ghazar Parpetsi, who noted the existence of such a repository at the Etchmiadzin catholicosate in Vagharshapat, where Greek and Armenian language texts were kept. Sources remain silent on the fate of the Etchmiadzin matenadaran until the 15th century, when the catholicosate returned from Sis in Cilicia.[1] Manuscript repositories existed at major monasteries in medieval Armenia, such as at Haghpat (Haghpat matenadaran), Sanahin, Saghmosavank, Tatev, Geghard, Kecharis, Hromkla, and Bardzraberd.[13] In some cases, monastic complexes have separate structures as manuscript repositories. Sometimes manuscripts would be transferred to caves to avoid destruction by foreign invaders.[13] Thousands of manuscripts in Armenia were destroyed over the course of the tenth to fifteenth centuries during the Turkic and Mongol invasions. According to the medieval Armenian historian Stepanos Orbelian, the Seljuk Turks were responsible for the burning of over 10,000 Armenian manuscripts in Baghaberd in 1170.[1]


Most of the manuscripts that later became the core of the Matenadaran collection were kept, before nationalization, at this building at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.[28]
Mashtots Avenue without car traffic during the 2018 protests. The Matenadaran is in the center, and the Mother Armenia statue can be seen above it on the hill behind.

As a result of Armenia being a constant battleground between two major powers, the Matenadaran in Etchmiadzin was pillaged several times, the last of which took place in 1804, during the Russo-Persian War. Eastern Armenia's annexation by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century provided a more stable climate for the preservation of the remaining manuscripts.[1] Whereas in 1828 the curators of the Matenadaran catalogued a collection of only 1,809 manuscripts, in 1863 the collection had increased to 2,340 manuscripts, and in 1892 to 3,338 manuscripts.[29] Prior to World War I, in 1914, the collected had reached 4,660 manuscripts.[1][29] The collection was sent to Moscow for safekeeping since Etchmiadzin was close to the war zone.[29]

Thousands of Armenian manuscripts were destroyed during the genocide in the Ottoman Empire.[1]

Modern Matenadaran

On December 17, 1920, just two weeks after the demise of the First Republic of Armenia and Sovietization of Armenia, the new Bolshevik government of Armenia issued a decree nationalizing all cultural and educational institutions in Armenia.[29] The decree, signed by Minister of Education Ashot Hovhannisyan, declared the manuscript repository of Etchmiadzin the "property of the working peoples of Armenia."[30] It was put under the supervision of Levon Lisitsian [hy], an art historian and the newly appointed commissar of all cultural and educational institutions of Etchmiadzin.[30][31] In March 1922 the manuscripts from Etchmiadzin that had been sent to Moscow during World War I were ordered to be returned to Armenia by Alexander Miasnikian.[1] 1,730 manuscripts were added to the original 4,660 manuscripts held at Etchmiadzin once they returned to Armenia.[29]

In 1939 the entire collection of manuscripts of Etchmiadzin were transferred to the State Public Library in Yerevan (what later became the National Library of Armenia) by the decision of the Soviet Armenian government.[30][2] In the same year there were 9,382 catalogued manuscripts at the Matenadaran.[32] On March 3, 1959, the Council of Ministers of Soviet Armenian officially established the Matenadaran as an "institute of scientific research with special departments of scientific preservation, study, translation and publication of manuscripts" in the current building.[29] It was named after Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet, in 1962.[2]

A branch of the Matenadaran was established next to the monastery of Gandzasar in the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in 2015.[33][34][35]


The main/old building of the Matenadaran
The statues of Mesrop Mashtots and his disciple Koryun by Ghukas Chubaryan (1962).

Main building

The Matenadaran rises 18 m (59 ft) above street level, situated on a slope at the northeastern end of Mashtots Avenue, the main thoroughfare in central Yerevan.[36][37] It was constructed with gray basalt[39] between 1945 and 1958, however, construction experienced a pause from 1947 to 1953 due to a shortage of skilled laborers.[40] Designed by Yerevan's chief architect Mark Grigorian, it is influenced by medieval Armenian architecture.[29][41] Specifically, its rectangular façade is inspired by the eastern façade of the 12th century southern gavit (narthex) of the Church of the Holy Apostles (Arakelots) of Ani, the grand capital of Bagratid Armenia.[42] Grigorian himself noted that the façade design (a tall central entrance flanked by two decorative niches on both sides) has ancient roots, appearing on the ancient Egyptian Temple of Edfu, and then at Ani's Apostles Church and the Baron's Palace [hy] that also incorporate a decorative frame.[43] The shallow niches draw inspiration from those in the monastery of Geghard.[44]

The building has been described as monumental,[45] grandiose,[46] stern,[47] solemn and solid-looking.[48] Vartan Gregorian suggested that it is "perhaps by design, the most imposing building in Yerevan."[49] Several authors have likened its appearance that of a temple or a church,[d] while others have compared it to a palace,[36] especially in its style and proportions.[53] Rouben Paul Adalian suggested that it was "designed as a modern temple to Armenian civilization."[54] Andrei Bitov called it the most remarkable piece of modern Armenian architecture.[55]

It has been listed as a national monument of Armenia,[56] and was last renovated in 2012.[57]

Statues and open-air exhibition

The statue of Mesrop Mashtots and his disciple Koryun by Ghukas Chubaryan was erected in 1962 below the terrace where the main building stands.[56] From 1963 to 1967, the statues of six medieval Armenian scholars, Toros Roslin, Grigor Tatevatsi, Anania Shirakatsi, Movses Khorenatsi, Mkhitar Gosh, and Frik, were erected in front of the building.[56] They represent manuscript illumination, philosophy, cosmology, history, jurisprudence, and poetry, respectively.[58]

Since the 1970s an open-air exhibition is located in the colonnades on both sides of the entrance. On display there are khachkars from the 13th-17th centuries; a tombstone from the Noratus cemetery; a vishap dated 2nd-1st millennia BC; a door from Teishebaini (Karmir Blur), a Urartian archaeological site.[56]


The entrance hall with the mural of the Battle of Avarayr

The building has a total floor area of 28,000 square metres (300,000 sq ft).[59] Grigorian's design of the entrance hall was inspired by the gavit (narthex) of Sanahin Monastery.[60] Three murals, created by Van Khachatur [hy] (Vanik Khachatrian) in 1959, depict three periods of Armenian history—Urartu, Hellenism, and the Middle Ages—surrounding the steps leading to the main exhibition hall.[61][56] Another mural by Khachatur, created in 1960, depicts the Battle of Avarayr (451) and is located in the entrance hall.[56]

A large ivory medallion with a diameter of 2 m (6 ft 7 in) with the portrait of Vladimir Lenin by Sergey Merkurov was previously hung in the lecture hall.[60] In the 1970s American archivist Patricia Kennedy Grimsted noted that Matenadaran is one of the few places in Soviet Armenia with air conditioning.[62]

New building

The new building of the Matenadaran.

The new building of the Matenadaran was designed by Arthur Meschian, an architect better known as a musician, to accommodate the growing collection of manuscripts.[63] This five-story structure surpasses the size of its predecessor, providing three times the space.[64] One of its features is a state-of-the-art laboratory, dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and digitization of the manuscripts.[63] Meschian's design seamlessly extends the legacy of the old structure without overshadowing it.[64] It was initially planned to be constructed in the late 1980s, but was not realized because of the 1988 Armenian earthquake, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War and the economic crisis that ensued.[64] Financed by Moscow-based Armenian businessman Sergei Hambartsumian ($10 million) and Maxim Hakobian, director of the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine ($4 million), it was built from May 2009 to September 2011.[65][63] It was inaugurated on September 20, 2011, on the eve of celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Armenia's independence in attendance of President Serzh Sargsyan, Catholicoi Karekin II of Etchmiadzin and Aram I of Cilicia, Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan, and others.[66][67]


The Matenadaran has become one of the landmarks and major tourist attractions of Yerevan since its establishment.[54] Mikhail Tikhomirov wrote in 1961 that it attracts a large number of tourists.[68] It has been described as Armenia's most important museum,[69] and Yerevan's most important and most popular tourist attraction.[70][54] John Brady Kiesling described it as a "world-class museum,"[38] and Aleksey Levykin, director of Russia's State Historical Museum, called it legendary.[71]

It attracted some 89,000 visitors in 2016,[72] and around 132,600 in 2019.[3]

Many foreign dignitaries have visited the Matenadaran, including Leonid Brezhnev (1970),[73] Indira Gandhi (1976),[74] Vladimir Putin (2001),[75] José Manuel Barroso (2012),[76] Prince Charles (2013).[77][e]


Currently, the Matenadaran contains a total of some 23,000 manuscripts and scrolls—including fragments.[2] It is, by far, the single largest collection of Armenian manuscripts in the world.[85][86] Furthermore, over 500,000 documents such as imperial and decrees of catholicoi, various documents related to Armenian studies, and archival periodicals.[30][32] The manuscripts cover a wide array of subjects: religious and theological works (Gospels, Bibles, lectionaries, psalters, hymnals, homilies, and liturgical books), texts on history, mathematics, geography, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, alchemy, astrology, music, grammar, rhetoric, philology, pedagogy, collections of poetry, literary texts, and translations from Greek and Syriac.[29][2] The writings of classical and medieval historians Movses Khorenatsi, Yeghishe and Koryun are preserved here, as are the legal, philosophical and theological writings of other notable Armenian figures. The preserved writings of Grigor Narekatsi and Nerses Shnorhali at the Matenadaran form the cornerstone of medieval Armenian literature.

The manuscripts previously held at Etchmiadzin constitute the core of the Matenadaran collection. The rest came from the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages in Moscow, the Nersisian Seminary and the Armenian Ethnographic Society, both in Tbilisi, and the Yerevan Museum of Literature.[29]

Definitions of Philosophy of David the Invincible (13th century)

When it was established as a distinct institution in 1959, the Matenadaran had around 10,000 Armenian manuscripts and 4,000 fragments (partial volumes or isolated pages) dating as early as the 5th century.[29][87] At the time there were some one thousand manuscripts in other languages, such as Persian, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Georgian, Russian, Hebrew, Hindi, Tamil, Latin, Ethiopic (Geʽez), and other languages.[29] Some originals, written in other languages, have been saved only in their Armenian translations.[2]

There has been steady growth in the number of manuscripts preserved at the Matenadaran, mostly from gifts from private individuals from the Armenian diaspora.[29] In 1972 there were already 12,960 Armenian manuscripts and nearly two thousand manuscripts in other languages.[88] Among the major donors of the Matenadaran include Harutiun Hazarian from New York (397 manuscripts), Varouzhan Salatian from Damascus (150 manuscripts), Rafael Markossian from Paris (37 manuscripts). Rouben Galichian from London has donated old maps. In 1969 Tachat Markossian, 95, from the village of Gharghan, near Isfahan, in central Iran, donated a 1069 manuscript to the Matenadaran. Written at Narekavank monastery, it is a copy of a Gospel written by Mashtots.[2]

Notable manuscripts

Carved ivory binding, front cover in five sections of Echmiadzin Gospel, Virgin and Child with scenes from her life, 6th century

Among the most significant manuscripts of the Matenadaran are the Lazarian Gospel [hy] (9th century), the Echmiadzin Gospel (10th century) and the Mughni Gospel (11th century).[88] The first, so called because it was brought from the Lazarian Institute, is from 887 and is one of the Matenadaran's oldest complete volumes. The Echmiadzin Gospel, dated 989, has a 6th-century, probably Byzantine, carved ivory cover.[29][88] The Cilician illuminated manuscripts by Toros Roslin (13th century) and Sargis Pitsak (14th century), two prominent masters, are also held with high esteem.[29]

Three manuscripts are allowed to leave the Matenadaran on a regular basis. The first is the Vehamor Gospel [hy], donated to the Matenadaran by Catholicos Vazgen I in 1975. It probably dates to the 7th century and is, thus, the oldest complete extant Armenian manuscript. The name refers to the mother of the Catholicos (vehamayr), to whose memory Vazgen I dedicated the manuscript. Since Levon Ter-Petrosyan in 1991, all president of Armenia have given their oath on this book.[89][90] The other two, the Shurishkani Gospel (1498, Vaspurakan)[91] and the Shukhonts' Gospel (1669)[92] are taken to the churches of Mughni and Oshakan every year to be venerated.[90]

Other items

Besides manuscripts, the Matenadaran holds a copy of the Urbatagirk, the first published Armenian book (1512, Venice) and all issues of the first Armenian magazine Azdarar ("Herald"), published in Madras, India from 1794 to 1796.[29] The first map printed in Armenian—in Amsterdam in 1695—is also kept at the Matenadaran.[93]



The first complete catalog of the Matenadaran manuscripts («Ցուցակ ձեռագրաց») was published in two volumes in 1965 and 1970 with a supplementary volume in 2007. These three volumes listed 11,100 manuscripts kept at the Matenadaran with short descriptions. Since 1984, a more detailed catalog has been published, titled The Main List of Armenian Manuscripts («Մայր ցուցակ հայերէն ձեռագրաց»). As of 2019, ten volumes have been published.[94]

Banber Matenadarani

The Matenadaran publishes the scholarly journal Banber Matenadarani (Բանբեր Մատենադարանի, "Herald of the Matenadaran") since 1941.[95] The articles are usually devoted to the manuscripts and editions of texts contained in the collection. The journal has been praised for its high quality of scholarship.[29]

Significance and recognition

On a 1978 Soviet stamp

The Matenadaran collection was inscribed by the UNESCO into the Memory of the World Register in 1997.[96] In 2011 Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan called the Matenadaran a "national treasure which has become the greatest citadel of the Armenian identity."[65] Asoghik Karapetian , director of the Etchmiadzin Museums, called the Matenadaran one of the holiest sites of Armenian identity, along with Mount Ararat and Etchmiadzin.[97]

According to Nora Dudwick, in the Soviet period, the Matenadaran "symbolized the central values of Armenian culture [and signified] to Armenians the high level of culture and learning their ancestors achieved as early as the fifth century."[98] Thomas de Waal notes that alongside several other institutions (e.g. the Opera, National Gallery) the Matenadaran was central in the Soviet efforts to make Yerevan a "repository of Armenian myths and hopes."[99] Levon Abrahamian argues that the secular Matenadaran continued the traditions of medieval monasteries within an atheist state.[100]

Patrick Donabédian and Claude Mutafian characterized it as a "modern, secular, and urban monastery."[101] Gevorg Emin called it the "chief temple" of Armenian manuscripts,[102] while Silva Kaputikyan suggested that it "evokes the same reverent feeling" as Saint Hripsime Church and the monastery of Geghard.[103] Abrahamian suggests that the Matenadaran has become a sanctuary and temple for Armenians, where manuscripts are treated not only with scientific respect, but also adoration.[104] An American delegation headed by Glenn T. Seaborg that visited in 1971 noted the "loving care with which the people obviously regarded" the "tremendous wealth" of the Matenadaran.[105]

In the Soviet era, it was featured on a 1978 stamp and a 5 ruble commemorative coin released in 1990. The Communist Party's official newspaper, Pravda, wrote in 1989 that no educated Soviet citizen can "imagine spiritual life without the capital's Tretyakov Gallery, the Leningrad Hermitage, and the Yerevan Matenadaran."[106] In 1984, Karen Demirchyan, the Soviet Armenian leader, expressed that there was no longer a necessity to safeguard Armenian books and manuscripts from potential destruction through constant migrations, as they were safeguarded at the Matenadaran, which he called the "temple of priceless creations of the people's mind and talent."[25]

In post-Soviet Armenia, it appeared on a 1,000 dram banknote circulated from 1994 to 2004.[107] Additionally, it was depicted on uncirculated commemorative coins in 2002 (gold) and 2007 (silver),[108][109] as well as on a stamp issued in 2007.[110] In 2015 the Central Bank of Russia issued a silver commemorative coin dedicated to the Eurasian Economic Union, which depicted symbols of the capitals of the member states, including the Matenadaran.[f][111][112]

Notable staff


Armenia's first president Ter-Petrosyan was a senior researcher at the Matenadaran.

Notable researchers

  • Gevorg Emin, poet. He worked briefly at the Matenadaran in the 1940s.[119]
  • Rafael Ishkhanyan, linguist, political activist and MP. He worked at the Matenadaran from 1961 to 1963.[120]
  • Nouneh Sarkissian, First Lady of Armenia (2018–2022). She worked at the Matenadaran in the 1980s.[121]
  • Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first president of Armenia (1991–98). He worked at the Matenadaran from 1978 to 1991. He was initially a junior researcher, but became a senior researcher in 1985.[122][123][124]
  • Asatur Mnatsakanian, philologist and historian. He worked at the Matenadaran from 1940 until his death in 1983.[125]


  1. ^ Մեսրոպ Մաշտոցի անվան հին ձեռագրերի ինստիտուտ, Mesrop Mashtotsi anvan hin dzeragreri institut
  2. ^ The Matenadaran has sometimes been called a library.[10][11][12]
  3. ^ In modern Eastern Armenian, the term gradaran has replaced it for "library", while in Western Armenian the word matenadaran continues to be used for "library".[13]
  4. ^ Michael J. Arlen: "a large and churchlike building",[50]
    Max Mohl: "resembles a church, a solemn temple",[51]
    Erich Richter: "resembling a temple from the outside".[52]
  5. ^ Including, among others, presidents Boris Tadić of Serbia,[78] Sergio Mattarella of Italy,[79] Bronisław Komorowski of Poland,[80] Heinz Fischer of Austria,[81] Valdis Zatlers of Latvia,[82] Rumen Radev of Bulgaria,[83] Prokopis Pavlopoulos of Greece.[84]
  6. ^ also the Grand Kremlin Palace and Spasskaya Tower in Moscow, the National Library of Belarus in Minsk, Kazakhstan's Presidential Palace in Astana, and the Kyrgyz State Historical Museum in Bishkek.
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  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Matenadaran. Historical review". Archived from the original on 6 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b Nazaretyan, Hovhannes (10 February 2022). "Զբոսաշրջությունը հաղթահարում է կորոնավիրուսային շոկը [Tourism overcoming coronavirus shock]". Archived from the original on 21 May 2023.
  4. ^ "Հայաստանի Հանրապետության Կառավարության առընթեր Մեսրոպ Մաշտոցի անվան հին ձեռագրերի գիտահետազոտական ինստիտուտի (Մատենադարան) վերակազմավորման մասին". (in Armenian). Armenian Legal Information System. 6 March 2002.
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