The 1,600-year-old alphabet full of secrets

The 1,600-year-old alphabet full of secrets

It was a late autumn morning when we left Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. After driving for about half an hour through the Armenian highlands, the driver stopped the car and Sofya Hakobyan, my guide, waved me out of the vehicle.

To my left, the snow-capped, four-peaked massif of Mount Aragats loomed in the distance, its outlines indistinct in the hazy sun. Grassy plateaus stretched from the edges of the highway to the foot of Armenia’s highest mountain. The landscape appeared bleak – a stretch of wind-swept brown upland sand dotted with withered bushes – but a number of human-sized stone sculptures placed on the gentle slopes gave a touch of mystery to the desolate expanse.

“We are in Alphabet Park. This was built in 2005 to mark the 1,600th anniversary of our Armenian alphabet,” Hakobyan said.

The statues, carved from faded pink, pastel yellow and light black stones, were engraved with flowers and symbols. Some of them were in groups, others in solitary positions, and Hakobyan led me to a U-shaped statue with delicate decoration at the bottom right. “It’s our capitalized Armenian ‘A,’” she said with a sweeping wave of her hand. “What you see around us are the other letters of our alphabet, which was invented by this man – Mesrop Mashtots – [a little more than] 1,600 years ago.

I followed his gaze to a majestic sculpture of an old bearded man. Draped in a flowing robe, the pink statue, larger than life, wore the expression of an ascetic: calm and slightly blasé. I remembered the man. Two days ago, I saw his statue at the entrance to Matenadaran.

Perched on a hill north of Yerevan’s Mashtots Avenue, the imposing basalt structure of Matenadaran has the appearance of a fortress, but it is actually a scriptorium (a library of ancient manuscripts) that doubles as a of a research institute. I had tiptoed through the hushed solemnity of the rooms which presented permanent exhibitions organized into thematic divisions, notably translated literature, philosophy, theology, the trivium and the quadrivium with mathematical and human sciences, poetry, law, history and the arts.



Stay up to date

Get notified when I publish something new, and unsubscribe at any time.

Related posts