The northern part of Yerevan has some outstanding sights, which should on no account be missed. The first place is called the Matenadaran displaying Armenian manuscripts of varying degrees of antiquity. This museum is almost the only place in Armenia where this quality of manuscript can be seen. Originally built in 1957, when only one room displayed roughly one percent of the 14,000 items in the collection, recent additions to the building have allowed the various Bibles, rituals, colophonies, gospels, and miscellanies to be shown in 5 rooms of varying sizes. The trick here is to watch out for the guided tours and try to work out where they will be going next, so that you can linger over certain pieces without being surrounded by twenty or so people with cameras and sharp elbows, who point at everything when there’s no need. If you have never seen an illuminated manuscript before, then you should know they are worth looking at closely, because the detail and artistic merit involved are superlative.
The manuscripts at the Matenadaran are, of course, the ones that have survived the vagaries of time and the actions of mindless vandals who destroy for the sake of destruction – indeed during the Armenian genocide the Ottomans destroyed all the Armenian manuscripts they could lay their hands on. It’s almost heartbreaking to think that the greatest illuminated manuscript painter of all time might be unknown to us because all his work has been destroyed. It would be like there being no Michelangelo sculptures, no JMW Turner paintings, or no Van Gogh pictures. Manuscripts were largely destroyed because they were associated with Christianity of course, but even the Mongols valued artisans and artists, the work they produced, and the contribution they provided to culture within society.