The Matenadaran, officially called the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, was founded in 1959 to house and maintain one of the world’s richest collections of handwritten books spanning a broad range of subjects, including history, philosophy, medicine and literature. It currently has 17,000 mainly Armenian-language manuscripts and 30,000 other documents of interest to scholars.
A fraction of those manuscripts dating back to medieval times is put on display at a museum operating within the old Matenadaran building which is perched on a hillside overlooking downtown Yerevan.
The Armenian government initiated in early 2008 the $14 million construction of a new building adjacent to the existing one. It will now house the manuscript repository itself as well as other facilities of the institute employing hundreds of people.
The project was financed by Russian-Armenian businessman Sergei Hambardzumian and Maxim Hakobian, a major shareholder in Armenia’s largest mining company. They donated $10 million and $4 million respectively.
Sarkisian paid tribute to both businessmen as well as Artur Meschian, a prominent Armenian musician and architect who designed the building, in a speech at the inauguration ceremony.
Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Catholicos Aram I, the number two figure in the church hierarchy, then consecrated the building in a joint prayer service. The new structure is equipped with a high-tech laboratory to preserve, restore and digitize manuscripts.
“This is one of the most important events taking place within the framework of the celebrations of the republic’s 20th anniversary,” Hrachya Tamrazian, the Matenadaran director, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said it is “opening up huge possibilities for internationalizing Matenadaran’s scientific activities.”
Tamrazian also emphasized the fact that the reconstruction will lead to a major expansion of the manuscript museum. The Matenadaran’s entire old building, constructed in 1957, will be used for permanent exhibitions, he said.
“It will become one of the world’s unique museums,” added Tamrazian.