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. 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:
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.