Balyan family

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The Balyan family (Armenian: Պալեաններ) was a dynasty of famous Ottoman imperial architects. They were of Armenian ethnicity. For five generations in the 18th and 19th centuries, they designed and constructed numerous major buildings, including palaces, kiosks, mosques, churches and various public buildings, mostly in Istanbul. The nine well-known members of the family served six sultans in the course of almost a century and were responsible for the westernization of the architecture of the then-capital city.

Until the 17th century, architects serving in the Ottoman Empire were either Muslim or converted to Islam later in life.[citation needed] Most probably as a result of the reform movement,[specify] architects from non-Muslim minorities gained popularity, and among them the Western-educated Balyan family has a distinct place in the history of the empire's architecture. But in historical resources, it is debated that their architectural identity may sometimes be confused with contractor or project administrator. It is difficult to define who among the family members was an "architect," "contractor" or "administrator."

The Balyans used Western architectural techniques and designs; they did not, however, disregard traditional Ottoman elements. The most important and largest construction built by members of the family was Dolmabahçe Palace, which is considered to be one of the world's finest palaces of the 19th century.[by whom?]

Most of their buildings are still in use and registered as historical monuments.[citation needed]

Family members[edit]

Graves of the Balyan family in the Armenian cemetery on Nuh Kuyusu Caddesi, Bağlarbaşı, Üsküdar, Istanbul.
  • Bali (Balen; ?–1725)
    • Magar (?–?)
      • Krikor Balyan (Krikor Amira Balyan; 1764–1831)
      • Senekerim Balyan (1768–1833)
      • Garabet Amira Balyan (1800–1866)
        • Nigoğayos Balyan (1826–1858)
          • Levon Balyan (1855-?)
        • Sarkis Balyan (1835–1899)
        • Hagop Balyan (1838–1875)
        • Simon Balyan (1848–1894)

Buildings and structures[edit]

Buildings and structures designed and constructed by Balyan family members:[1]

Royal residences

Religious buildings

Public buildings

Production facilities


Mason Bali[edit]

Mason Bali (Mason Balen, Turkish: Meremmetçi Bali Kalfa or Meremmetçi Balen Kalfa), a masonry craftsman from the Belen village of Karaman in central Anatolia, was the founder of the dynasty. He moved to Constantinople, where he learned of an Armenian palace architect[citation needed] of Sultan Mehmed IV (1648–1687), whom he replaced. When Bali died in 1725, his son Magar took his place as architect at the sultan’s court.

Architect Magar[edit]

Architect Magar (Turkish: Mimar Magar) was charged with important projects and was consequently frequently promoted to higher ranks. However, as a result of a denunciation, he was driven away from the court of Sultan Mahmud I (1730–1754) to exile in the eastern Anatolian town of Bayburt.[citation needed] There, Magar taught his elder son Krikor architecture before being pardoned and returning to Constantinople. Following his retirement, his son Krikor took over his position. Magar’s second son Senekerim collaborated with his brother Krikor. Magar died in Bayburt.

The family[edit]

Krikor Balyan[edit]

Krikor Balyan (Krikor Amira Balyan; 1764–1831) was the first member of the family to use the surname Balyan. He was called Baliyan or Balyan after his grandfather and later adopted this as the family name Balyan. He was the son-in-law of Mason Minas and father-in-law of Ohannes Amira Severyan, both of whom were palace architects.

Krikor received his credential of architecture from Sultan Abdul Hamid I (1774–1787). He became unofficial advisor to Sultan Selim III (1789–1807), and was close to Sultan Mahmud II (1808–1839). Krikor’s attitude of impartiality and willingness for negotiation caused foreigners to respect him during their visits to the sultan’s palace.[citation needed]

He was exiled in 1820 to Kayseri in central Anatolia, because of his involvement in a dispute between Gregorian and Catholic Armenians. He was pardoned and allowed to return to Constantinople shortly after a friend of his in the palace, Amira Bezjian.[citation needed]

Krikor died in 1831 after serving the empire during the reigns of four sultans, Abdul Hamid I (1774–1787), Selim III (1789–1807), Mustafa IV (1807–1808)), and Mahmud II (1808–1839). His young and inexperienced son Garabet Amira succeeded him.

Krikor's major works:

Senekerim Balyan[edit]

Senekerim Balyan (1768–1833) was the son of Architect Magar and the younger brother of Krikor Balyan. He worked together with his brother, but remained in the background.[citation needed] He rebuilt the Beyazit Fire Tower, which had been constructed in wood in 1826 by his brother Krikor, but destroyed after a fire. He died in Jerusalem and was buried in the Armenian church yard.[specify]

Senekerim's works:

Garabet Amira Balyan[edit]

Garabet Amira Balyan (Karabet Balyan; 1800–1866) was born in Constantinople. At his father's death, he was very young and not experienced enough to take over his father's position by himself. Thus he served alongside his uncle-in-law Mason Ohannes Serveryan. Garabet served during the reigns of Mahmud II (1808–1839), Abdul Mecid I (1839–1861), and Abdulaziz (1861–1876), and constructed numerous buildings in Constantinople. The best known of his works is Dolmabahçe Palace, which he built in collaboration with his son Nigoğayos.[2] Another notable architectural work of his is Beylerbeyi Palace, which was built in cooperation with his other son Sarkis.

Garabet Balyan was also active in the Armenian community's educational and administrative matters and carried out research work on Armenian architecture. His four sons, Nigoğayos, Sarkis, Hagop, and Simon, succeeded him after he died of a heart attack in 1866 while conversing with friends.[3]

Dolmabahçe Palace
Ortaköy Mosque in front of the Bosphorus Bridge

Garabet’s notable works:[citation needed]

  • Dolmabahçe Palace, with Nigoğayos Balyan (1848–1856)[4]
  • New Çırağan Palace
  • Yeşilköy Hünkar Kiosk
  • Old Yıldız Palace
  • Ortaköy Mosque, with Nigoğayos Balyan (1854)
  • Nusretiye Clock Tower (1848)
  • Beşiktaş Soorp Asdvadzazin Armenian Church (1834)
  • Kuruçeşme Soorp Nişan Armenian Church (1834)
  • Beyoğlu Soorp Yerrortutyun Church (1838)
  • Kumkapı Soorp Asdvadzazin Church
  • Academy of Fine Arts (former cannon foundry) building in Tophane
  • Fındıklı Cemile and Münire Sultan Palaces (1856–1859; today Mimar Sinan University)
  • İzmit Hünkar Palace
  • Academy of War
  • Mausoleum of Mahmut II with fountain (1840)
  • Bakırköy textile factory
  • Beykoz tannery (1842)
  • Hereke textile factory (1843)
  • Armenian hospital (1832–1834)[specify]

Nigoğayos Balyan[edit]

Nigoğayos Balyan

Nigoğayos Balyan (Nigoğos Balyan; 1826–1858) was the first son of Garabet Armira Balyan. In 1843, he was sent to Paris together with his brother Sarkis to study architecture at the Collège Sainte-Barbe de Paris. Due to an illness, however, he and his brother had to return to Constantinople in 1845. Working alongside his father Garabet, Nigoğayos gained experience. He was appointed arts advisor to Sultan Abdulmecid I (1839–1861). He founded also a school for domestic architects in order to teach Western architecture.[citation needed]

Nigoğayos worked together with his father on the building of Dolmabahçe Palace (1842–1856). He participated in the preparations for the Law on the Armenian Nation.[clarification needed][citation needed] Nigoğayos died in Constantinople in 1858 of typhoid fever at the age of 32.

Nigoğayos's notable works:

  • Küçük Mecidiye Mosque (1843)
  • Ihlamur Pavilion (1849)
  • Dolmabahçe Mosque, aka Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan Mosque (1852–1854)
  • Adile Sultan Pavilion, Validebağ (1853)
  • Ortaköy Mosque, together with Garabet Amira Balyan (1854)
  • Küçüksu Pavilion, aka Göksu Pavilion (1857)
  • Armenian Hospital

Sarkis Balyan[edit]

Sarkis Balyan (1835–1899) was the second son of Garabet Balyan. In 1843, he followed his elder brother Nigoğayos to Paris. He had to return to Constantinople in 1845 due to an illness of his brother. In 1847, Sarkis went to Paris again to attend Collège Sainte-Barbe de Paris, which he finished after three years. Later, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts.[specify]

After returning to Constantinople, Sarkis began working alongside his father and his brother Nigoğayos. Following the deaths of these two, he continued his work with the younger brother Hagop. Sarkis won greater fame than Hagop because he constructed the structures his brother designed.[citation needed] Sarkis is also known as the designer of many buildings.[citation needed]

Known as a fast worker, his professional life was interrupted by the death of brother Hagop in 1875 and by Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne (1876–1909). Due to political accusations, he was forced into exile in Europe for 15 years, but eventually returned to Turkey through the intercession of Hagop Kazazian Pasha on his behalf.[5]

His most important work is the Valide Sultan Kiosk. Interested in all branches of the fine arts, Sarkis supported Armenian writers, musicians, and particularly theater actors. He was also a member of the Armenian Patriarchate’s Assembly. He was awarded the title Ser Mimar (Chief Architect of Ottoman Empire).[citation needed]

Beylerbeyi Palace

Sarkis's notable works:

Hagop Balyan[edit]

Hagop Balyan (1838–1875) was the third son of Garabet Balyan. He worked alongside his brother Sarkis on various projects in Constantinople. Hagop died in Paris in 1875 at the age of 37; he was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Simon Balyan[edit]

Simon Balyan (1848-1894) was the youngest son of Garabet Balyan. He was also an architect.

Levon Balyan[edit]

Levon Balyan (1855-1925) was the son of Nigoğayos Balyan. He attended Collège Sainte-Barbe de Paris in 1869.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Turkish Cultural Foundation
  2. ^ Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Istanbul:Sultan Abdulaziz and the Beylerbeyi Palace, Filiz Yenisehirlioglu, Islamic Art in the 19th Century: Tradition, Innovation, And Eclecticism, ed. Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Stephen Vernoit, (Brill, 2006), 65.
  3. ^ [2] Turkis Cultural Foundation, Garabed Amira Balyan
  4. ^ Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Istanbul:Sultan Abdulaziz and the Beylerbeyi Palace, Filiz Yenisehirlioglu, Islamic Art in the 19th Century: Tradition, Innovation, And Eclecticism, 65.
  5. ^ Pamukciyan, Kevork (2003). Ermeni Kaynaklarından Tarihe Katkılar IV - Biyografileriyle Ermeniler. Istanbul: Aras Yayıncılık. p. 97. ISBN 975-7265-54-5. 
  • Finkel, Caroline, Osman's Dream (Basic Books, 2005), 57: "Istanbul was only adopted as the city's official name in 1930 ...".
  • Göyünç, Nejat, Turkish-Armenian Cultural Relations at the Wayback Machine (archived March 22, 2003) (Turkish National Assembly, n.d.).