The Matenadaran is both a museum of ancient manuscripts and a scientific research institute. The Matenadaran is a major center with a unique and exceptionally rich manuscript collection, one that has become a symbol of Armenia. It is named after Mesrop Mashtots, who is credited with the creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405.
Mashtots also established a collection of Armenian manuscripts at the Holy See of Echmiadzin (the center of the Armenian church). For almost 1500 years the collection was connected to the Holy See and subjected to the triumphs and tragedies of the times. In 1920 the Echmiadzin Matenadaran was nationalized and in 1939 moved to the capital city of Yerevan. In 1959 it became a research institute by decision of the Armenian government.
The Matenadaran is one of the world's richest manuscript depositories, with a collection of nearly 17,500 manuscripts covering almost all areas of ancient and medieval Armenian Culture and Science: history, geography, grammar, philosophy, law, medicine, mathematics, cosmology, chronology, alchemy, literature, art history, miniature painting, music, literature in translation, etc. Many originals lost in their mother tongue are available only in their Armenian translations, preserved at the Matenadaran and are of exceptional valuable to world culture and science.
In addition to Armenian manuscripts, which form the main part of the Matenadaran collection, there are also preserved manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Assyrian, Old Slavic, Latin, Ethiopian, Indian, Japanese and other languages.
The Matenadaran building (architect Mark Grigoryan) was completed in 1957.
Statues of Mesrop Mashtots, Koriun (his pupil and biographer) along with a sculptural group representing the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet (sculptor Ghukas Chubaryan) stand at the lower approach to the building. The inscription on the adjacent wall - «Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ»: "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding" (Proverbs 1:2) is the first sentence translated and written in Armenian after the invention of the Armenian script. This script became a landmark in Christian Armenian culture.
Flanking the entrance of the museum are sculptures of famous medieval scholars representing various areas of Armenian writing.
In the open-air arcade (right and left of the statues) are medieval khachkars from different parts of Armenia and stones with inscriptions and ornaments.