Standing at the top of Yerevan’s grandest avenue, this cathedral-like manuscript library is a source of enormous pride to all Armenians. The first matenadaran (book depository) for Armenian texts was built by St Mesrop Mashtots at Echmiadzin in the 5th century, and held thousands of manuscripts. Invasions over the centuries led to enormous losses through looting and burning, but 1800 exquisitely illustrated and bound manuscripts survived. These form the base of the stunning collection here.
At the base of the purpose-designed building, which dates from 1957, is a statue of Mashtots teaching his alphabet to a disciple. Six other statues of great scholars and writers stand by the door. The outdoor gallery has carved rock tombs and khachkars brought here from ancient sites around Armenia.
Inside, there are more than 23,000 manuscripts, fragments, documents and maps. The central hall focuses on the development of Armenian medieval sciences, literature and arts throughout the centuries. Other halls showcase Greek and Roman scientific and philosophical works, Iranian and Arabic manuscripts, and singular items such as the 13th-century Homilies of Mush, so heavy that it was ripped in half to be carried away to safety by two women after the 1915 massacres. The book was not put back together until years later, as one saviour had emigrated to America and taken it with her for safekeeping.