3498) Armenian Architects of Istanbul: Online Exhibition

The main gate of İstanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace was designed by Armenian architect Garabet Balyan. Photo Mehmet Yaman

The Turkish Museum of Architecture has recently opened an online exhibition of structures in modern Turkey created by Armenian architects during the Ottoman era. The website describes the Armenian contribution to architectural development of Istanbul as follows:

“Armenian architects took on a prominent role in the construction of palace buildings and official buildings in the Ottoman Empire. The staff of the Imperial Architects Office that directed such construction projects always included Armenian architects. Young recruits to this office were trained within a master-apprentice relationship. In other words, the Imperial Architects Office also operated as a kind of school of architecture
. . .

The architects of the Balian family…, had already been realizing the construction projects of the palace. Almost all the large mosques commissioned by sultans in Istanbul in the first half of the century were the work of the Balians. Increasingly, Levantine, Greek and other Armenian architects began to carry out the projects of public buildings and private buildings of their own communities. They were either trained by practice, or were graduating from the schools of architecture in Europe. Meanwhile, architecture seemed no longer to be a ‘popular’ profession for the Muslims of Ottoman society. After the opening of the School of Fine Arts, for a long period of time, the majority of students at the Department of Architecture were Rum/Greek and Armenian. “

During the course of the Ottoman history many famous architects of Armenian origin have been instrumental in the development of the empire. The architecture of Istanbul would be unimaginable without the Balian family – a dynasty of famous Ottoman imperial architects 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 evolution of the architecture of the then-capital city. The most important and largest construction built by members of the family was Dolmabahce Palace, which is considered to be one of the world’s finest palaces of the 19th century. Most of their buildings are still in use and registered as historical monuments.

Another famous Ottoman-Armenian architect was Mimar Sinan chief Ottoman architect and civil engineer for sultans Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II, and Murad III, in the 16th century.[5][6][7] He was, during a period of fifty years, responsible for the construction or the supervision of every major building in the Ottoman Empire. More than three hundred structures are credited to his name. He is also considered one of the world’s first earthquake engineers. His apprentices would later design the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Stari Most in Mostar and help design the Taj Mahal in the Mughal Empire. He is considered the greatest architect of the classical period of Ottoman architecture, and has been compared to Michelangelo, his contemporary in the West. Among his masterpieces are such famous building as the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.

See bellow for the images from the exhibition:

Bezm-i Alem Valide Mosque by Garabed Amira Balyan

Büyükada Pier by Mihran Azaryan

Mahmud II Tomb by Garabed Amira Balyan

Saint Savior Hospital Chapel by Kevork Aslanyan

Saint Stephan Bulgarian Church by Hovsep Aznavur

Sanasaryan Han – “Former Police Department” – “Mısır Apartment Block by Hovsep Aznavur

Süleymaniye Mosque, 1890

Tobacco Factory – Kadir Has University by Hovsep Aznavur

Valide Dam by Garabed Amira Balyan

“Saint Mary Church” – “Holy Trinity Church” – “Mahmud II Dam” by Garabed Amira Balyan

Abbas Hilmi Pasha Mansion by Hovsep Aznavur

Akaretler Row Houses by Sarkis Balyan

Anadolu Han by Sarkis Taşcıyan

Apartment Block by Şabuh Hançer

Apartment Blocks by Levon Güreğyan

Armenian Evangelical Church by Isdepan İzmirliyan

Armenian Patriarchate by Krikor Melidosyan

Beyazıt Tower” – “Iron and Steel Factory by Senekerim Balyan – Garabed Amira Balyan

Beylerbeyi Palace by Sarkis Balyan

Dilsizzade Han – Office Building by Isdepan Hamamciyan

Dolmabahçe Palace Ceremonial Hall by Nigoğos Balyan

Dolmabahçe Palace, Imperial Gate by Nigoğos Balyan

Ferah Apartment Block by Aram ve İsak Karakaş

Holly Cross Church by Ohannes Serveryan and Saint Gregory Church by Harutyun Serveryan

Hovagimyan Han by Levon Nafilyan

Ihlamur Pavilion by Nigoğos Balyan

Kadıköy and Fatih Municipalities by Yetvart Terziyan

Küçüksu Pavilion by Nigoğos Balyan

Mahmud II Tomb by Garabed Amira Balyan

Mahmud II Tomb by Garabed Amira Balyan

Metro Han by Mikayel Nurican

Military Academy – Kuleli Cavalry Barracks by Garabed Amira Balyan

Ministry of War – İstanbul University Rectorate by Sarkis Balyan

Nusretiye Mosque by Krikor Amira Balyan

Old Darüşşafaka Lyceum by Ohannes Kalfa

Ragıp Paşa Apartment Block by Aram ve İsak Karakaş

Saint George Church by Bedros Nemtze

Saint Leon Church by Boğos Makasdar

Saint Mary Church by Andon ve Garabed Tülbentciyan

Saint Mary Church by Garabed Devletyan

Saint Nicola Church by Vartan Tıngıryan

Saint Paul Church by Krikor Hürmüzyan

Saint Saviour Hospital and Pharmacy by Ohannes Serveryan

Saint Takavor Church by Mıgırdiç Carkyan

Selimiye Barracks – “Nusretiye Mosque by Krikor Amira Balyan

Süreyya Movie Theater by Keğam Kavafyan

Taşciyan Mansion by Artin Macaryan

The Door of Armenian Cemetery by Mihran Kalfa

Çırağan Palace by Sarkis Balyan

“Agopyan Han” – “İş Bankası by Levon Nafilyan

“Church of Immaculate Conception” – “Saint John Chrysostomas Church ” by Andon ve Garabed Tülbentciyan

“Naval Hospital” – “Saint Jacob Row Houses” by Aram Tahtacıyan

“Sadabad Mosque” “Maçka Police Station – İTU Business Administration Faculty” “Maçka Armony – İTU Language School” by Sarkis Balyan

Azarian Seaside Mansion – Sadberk Hanim Museum by Andon Kazazyan

Dolmabahçe Palace by Garabed Amira Balyan


1) http://www.panarmenian.net/eng/news/175916/

2) http://www.archmuseum.org/Gallery/armenian-architects-of-istanbul-in-the-era-of-westernization_62.html

3) http://www.archmuseum.org/Gallery/Photo_62_1_armenian-architects-of-istanbul-in-the-era-of-westernization.html

4) http://www.todayszaman.com//news-339453-armenian-architects-of-istanbul-exhibition-on-display-online.html#.Uv7s8YWkTNg.facebook

5) Fletcher, Richard (2005). The cross and the crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation (Reprinted. ed.). London: Penguin. p. 138. ISBN 9780670032716. “…Sinan the Old-he lived to be about ninety-an Armenian from Anatlia who had been brought to the capital as one of the ‘gathered’.”

6) Muller, Herbert Joseph (1961). The Loom of History. New American Library. p. 439. According to Herbert J. Muller Sinan “seems to have been an Armenian —though it is almost a criminal offense in Turkey today to mention this probability.”

7) Decree published in the Turkish journal Türk Tarihi Encümeni Mecmuası, vol. 1, no. 5 (June 1930-May 1931) p. 10. affirms his Armenian background. This decree by Selim II dated Ramadan 7 981 (ca. Dec. 30, 1573), grants Sinan’s request to forgive and spare his relatives from the general exile of Kayseri’s Armenian community to the island of Cyprus.


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