Balyan family

Graves of the Balyan family in the Armenian cemetery on Nuh Kuyusu Caddesi, Bağlarbaşı, Üsküdar, Istanbul.

The Balyan family (Western Armenian: Պալեաններ; Turkish: Balyan ailesi or Palyan ailesi) was a prominent Armenian family of Ottoman court architects in the service of Ottoman sultans and members of the Ottoman dynasty during the 18th and 19th centuries. For five generations, they designed and constructed numerous major buildings in the Ottoman Empire, including palaces, mansions, konaks, kiosks, yalis, mosques, churches, and various public buildings, mostly in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). The nine well-known members of the family served six sultans in the course of almost a century and played an important role in the Westernization of Ottoman architecture during the Tanzimat period.


Mason Bali

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 of Sultan Mehmed IV (16481687), whom he replaced. When Bali died in 1725, his son Magar took his place as architect at the sultan’s court.

Architect Magar

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 (17301754) to exile in the eastern Anatolian town of Bayburt. 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.

Family tree


Krikor Balyan

Krikor Balyan (Armenian: Գրիգոր Պալեան, also known as 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 (r. 1774–87). He became unofficial advisor to Sultan Selim III (r. 1789–1807), and was close to Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839). 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.

Krikor died in 1831 after serving the empire during the reigns of four sultans, Abdul Hamid I (r. 1774–87), Selim III (r. 1789–1807), Mustafa IV (r. 1807–8)), and Mahmud II (r. 1808–39). His young and inexperienced son Garabet Amira succeeded him.

Krikor's major works include

Senekerim Balyan

Senekerim Balyan (Armenian: Սենեքերիմ Պալեան; 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. 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.

Senekerim's works include the Beyazıt Fire Tower (1828) and the Surp Asdvadzazdin Armenian Church in Ortaköy (1824).

Garabet Amira Balyan

Garabet Amira Balyan (Armenian: Կարապետ Պալեան; 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 (18081839), Abdul Mecid I (18391861), and Abdulaziz (18611876), and constructed numerous buildings in Constantinople. The best known of his works is Dolmabahçe Palace, which he built in collaboration with his son Nigoğayos.[1] 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.[2]

Dolmabahçe Palace
Ortaköy Mosque in front of the Bosphorus Bridge

Garabet’s notable works:

Nigoğayos Balyan

Nigoğayos Balyan (1826–1858)

Nigoğayos Balyan (Armenian: Նիկողայոս Պալեան; also known as 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 (18391861). He founded also a school for domestic architects in order to teach Western architecture.

Nigoğayos worked together with his father on the building of Dolmabahçe Palace (18421856). He participated in the preparations for the Armenian National Constitution.[4] Nigoğayos died in Constantinople in 1858 of typhoid fever at the age of 32.

Nigoğayos's notable works:

Sarkis Balyan

Sarkis Balyan (1835–1899)

Sarkis Balyan (Armenian: Սարգիս Պալեան; 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.

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. Sarkis is also known as the designer of many buildings.

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 (18761909). 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).

Beylerbeyi Palace

Sarkis's notable works:

Garo Balian

Garo Balian (1878-1960) was the son of Sarkis Balyan. He was the architect of the famous Melkonian Educational Institute, the Melikian and Ouzounian schools and the Armenian Genocide monument, all in Nicosia, Cyprus. He was also the architect of numerous buildings in Cairo.

Hagop Balyan

Hagop Balyan (Armenian: Հակոբ Պալեան; 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

Simon Balyan (Armenian: Սիմոն Պալեան; 1848–1894) was the youngest son of Garabet Balyan. He was also an architect.

Levon Balyan

Levon Balyan (Armenian: Լեւոն Պալեան; 1855–1925) was the son of Nigoğayos Balyan. He attended Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris in 1869.

Buildings and structures

Buildings and structures designed and constructed by Balyan family members:[6]

Royal residences

Religious buildings

Public buildings

  • Istanbul Mint
  • Selimiye Barracks (1800)
  • Davutpaşa Barracks (1826–1827)
  • Beyoğlu Barracks
  • Maçka Arsenal
  • Ministry of War
  • Academy of War
  • Palace School of Medicine
  • Academy of Fine Arts
  • Beşiktaş Makruhyan Armenian Primary School (1866)
  • Beyazit Tower (1828)
  • Dolmabahçe Clock Tower (1895)
  • Nusretiye Clock Tower (1848)
  • Topuzlu Dam
  • Valide Dam
  • Beşiktaş-Akaretler 138 Terraced Houses (1874)
  • Surp Prgiç Armenian National Hospital (1827–1834)

Production facilities

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Balyan family.


  1. 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.
  2. Turkis Cultural Foundation, Garabed Amira Balyan
  3. 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.
  4. Nalbandian, Louise (1963). The Armenian revolutionary movement; the development of Armenian political parties through the nineteenth century. (3. pr ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 47. ISBN 0520009142.
  5. Pamukciyan, Kevork (2003). Ermeni Kaynaklarından Tarihe Katkılar IV - Biyografileriyle Ermeniler. Istanbul: Aras Yayıncılık. p. 97. ISBN 975-7265-54-5.
  6. Turkish Cultural Foundation
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