The Balyan Family: Armenian masters behind Ottoman architecture

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The Balyan Family: Armenian masters behind Ottoman architecture
Beylerbeyi Palace
The Balyan Family: Armenian masters behind Ottoman architecture
Beylerbeyi Palace

The Balyan family was one of the most well-known Armenian families during the Ottoman era. Coming from Central Anatolia, family members served as imperial architects for years and are remembered as the masterminds behind many palaces, mosques and barracks like the Dolmabahçe Mosque and the Beylerbeyi Palace

The Armenians, Eastern Anatolia’s indigenous community, were competent in advanced agricultural methods and masters of almost every craft. Armenian families were settled in old and newly founded towns in Anatolia and Rumelia in efforts to meet the need for competent craftsmen.

Engineering marvels

An Armenian family coming from the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri was the origin of nine craftsmen consecutively, and they left their marks on many buildings in Istanbul and its surroundings during the 18th and 19th centuries such as palaces, mosques, churches, mansions, waterfront residences, barracks, schools, hospitals, towers, fountains, weirs and theater halls. The Balyan Family developed a unique architectural style by blending Europe’s baroque and imperial styles with Oriental ornamental style. Apart from passing down their knowledge and experience from one generation to another, the Balyan Family succeeded in modernizing themselves and making sure they were not forgotten. The oldest known master of the family, Meremmetçi Bali Kalfa, migrated from Kayseri’s Derevent village to Istanbul in the 18th century and passed away in 1803.

Master Krikor (1764-1831) who was the grandson of Bali Kalfa and the first to use his father’s name last name Balyan as last name, became Ottoman Sultan Selim III’s personal architect. He established such a reputation that Selim III’s successor, Sultan Mahmud II, with whom Master Krikor formed a friendship, granted him certain privileges such as tax immunity for him and his family members and permission to ride in the city, in addition to using a two-shoveled boat and having his lawsuits heard by the grand vizier. Master Krikor was also recognized and loved by his community and became an important name in settling disputes in the Armenian community. […]

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