The extracellular matrix (ECM) is the noncellular component of tissues in the cardiovascular system and other organs throughout the body. It is formed of filamentous proteins, proteoglycans, and glycosaminoglycans, which extensively interact and whose structure and dynamics are modified by cross-linking, bridging proteins, and cleavage by matrix degrading enzymes. The ECM serves important structural and regulatory roles in establishing tissue architecture and cellular function. The ECM of the developing heart has unique properties created by its emerging contractile nature; similarly, ECM lining blood vessels is highly elastic in order to sustain the basal and pulsatile forces imposed on their walls throughout life. In this part 1 of a 4-part JACC Focus Seminar, we focus on the role, function, and basic biology of the ECM in both heart development and in the adult.