YURT
ARCHITECTURE, FOLK HERITAGE

“YURT”- A NOMADIC DWELLING OF CENTRAL ASIA

LATTICE WORK- II

Yurt, well you may be hearing this term for the first time. But believe me they are worth knowing. I first heard about them in one of the Interior Design book and now again while exploring latticework and lattice based structures. So let’s get acquainted with beautiful Nomadic dwelling incorporating latticework- “Yurt”.

YURT- AN ANCIENT DWELLING

Yurt” in Turkish and “Ger” in Mongolian is a traditional round tent which is sturdy yet portable (can move from place to place). The tent is made up of lattice of flexible poles and covered with felt or skin or other fabric. The dwelling is home to several distinct nomadic groups of Central Asia, particularly Mongolia, for thousands of years. 

China Season Landscape Travel Inner Mongolia

THE BASIC YURT STRUCTURE

The structure of a Yurt consists of an angled latticework of wood or bamboo for walls, a door frame, poles, rafters, and a wheel (crown, compression ring). The roof structure is often self-supporting, but large yurts have interior posts supporting the roof.

Typical yurts take only between 1 to 3 hours to assemble or take down, and usually house between 5 to 15 people. They are commonly 2 meters (6 feet) high structures, with a slightly domed top. A wood-burning iron stove set up is available in the middle of a traditional yurt, with a long chimney reaching up past the roof.

Mongolian ger: with roof poles in place

YURT IN LITERAL TERMS

“Yurt” is an Old Turkic word that is used as the synonym of “homeland” or a “dormitory”. In Russian, this structure is called “yurta” (юрта), whence the word came into English. It’s interesting, that Yurt has different names in different languages like ɡɛr or Ger (an older, traditional style of yurt) in Mongolian simply means “home”. “Jurta” in Hungarian. “юрта” or yurta in Bulgarian. “Kherga” or “Jirga” in Afghani. “Khema” (خیمه/ख़ेमा) in Hindustani and چادر (châdor) in Persian.

Yaranga is a similar tent-like mobile structure serving as a home to some nomadic Northern indigenous peoples of Russia, such as Chukchi and Siberian Yupik.

Kazah jurta

ANCIENT HISTORY OF YURTS

The earliest written record of a Yurt used as a dwelling comes from the popular ancient Greek historian Herodotus. He described yurt-like tents as the dwelling place of the Scythians, a horse riding-nomadic nation who lived in the northern Black Sea and Central Asian region from around 600 BC to 300 AD. The Buryat Mongolian community of Siberia claim their land as the birthplace of the ger.

Italian explorer Marco Polo detailed the gers/yurts used by Mongols, between 1274 and 1291. Mongolian leader Genghis Khan commanded his entire empire from a large ger. That empire stretched from the Korean Peninsula in the east; through China, Tibet, and Iran in the southwest; and through Georgia and Russia in the north. As the Mongols expanded their empire, they brought yurt culture with them. Yurts remained very common in Turkey until the 1960s and 1970s and they are still found in rural areas of Hungary.

Turkmen woman at the entrance to a yurt in Turkestan; 1913 picture by Prokudin-Gors

Yurts are an integral part of cultural identity of Central Asia. They are at least 3000 years old dwellings which are unique in their structures and assembly. Nomads moving from place to place carried their home hauled over 2 or 3 animals, such as horses, camels, or yaks along with them .

MATERIALS

The material used in Yurt construction was used in different forms of trade by merchants and woodworkers. The thick felt, used to cover Gers came from the animals owned by the nomads. Central Asian nomads had herds of sheep, yak, and goats. Cashmere, one of the softest, lightest, and most valuable wools, comes from Mongolian goats got the highest trading price. The timber to make the external structure is not to be found on the treeless steppes, and must be obtained by trade in the valleys below. The finer the wood fairer the price.

A traditional Kazakh yurt on a wagon

YURT CONSTRUCTION

A yurt was designed to be dismantled easily and the parts carried compactly on camels or yaks to be rebuilt on another site. That is why the construction was easy and quick.

FRAME

The frame or lattice consists of crisscross wooden poles or Khana, a door-frame, roof poles and a crown. The frame is held together with one or more leather ropes or animal hairs.

ROOF

The roof of a yurt is the most complex part of the structure. The central part of the roof is called the crown. Bigger yarts may have one or more columns to support the crown and straight roof poles.

CROWN

The crown is partially open, to allow air circulation and a chimney to penetrate the structure. The circular ceiling window formed by the crown is called the toono, and the columns that sometimes support the heavy crown are called bagana.

CENTRAL STOVE

A central stove is centrally placed to provide even heat to entire Yurt. Extra layers of felt can further insulate against the frigid winter of the steppe.

A TYPICAL INSIDE OF YURT WITH CENTRAL STOVE SETTING

POLES

The support poles are made of light wood, such as willow, birch, poplar, or even bamboo.

YURT DOOR

The traditional yurt door centrally placed and mostly painted with bright colors like of is white with a red-brown color. They have beautiful spiritual symbols and ornamental motifs on them to beautify the entrance.

STABILITY

The structure is kept stable by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof.

FELT/WOOL

The outer covering of the Yurt is finished with thick felt obtained from locally available fur or fabric. The wool is collected from domesticated sheep, goats, or yaks. Most yurts have 3 to 5 layers of felt, and, often, an outer layer of waterproof fabric such as canvas. 

INSULATION

They provide a good shelter to the nomads offering them a large amount of insulation and warmth from the outside cold of winters, and keeping cool indoors in summertime. The circular shape of yurts also allows them to be easily and efficiently heated and cooled.

A ger sits on the Steppes near Mandalgovi

IMPORTANCE OF DIRECTIONS

This nomadic dwelling is a classic combination of design and decor. Directions played a major role in orientation of Yurt. Like traditional entrance of a yurt is preferably the door to the south. North is taken as the most sacred direction, a perfect place for altar. The western half of the Yurt was considered the “male” part of the dwelling, while the eastern was where women lived and worked.

YURT INTERIOR DESIGN

YURT DECORATION

The decoration within a yurt is primarily pattern-based. These patterns are inspired from sacred ornaments and sacred symbols or motifs with the belief of strength and protection. All patterns can be found on the walls of Yurts, on embroidery, furniture, books, clothing, doors, and other objects. Common symbols includes-

  • The khas or swastika as a symbol of strength
  • Four powerful beasts (lion, tiger, garuda, and dragon)
  • Five fundamental elements of cosmos– fire, water, earth, metal, and wood
  • Geometric pattern of continuous hammer or walking pattern (alkhan khee) depicting strength and constant movement.
  • Ulzii, a symbol of long life and happiness.
  • The khamar ugalz (nose pattern) and ever ugalz (horn pattern) are derived from the shape of the animal’s nose and horns.

MODERN YURTS

The charm of ancient nomadic dwelling is still alive in Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia. Even today, the word “ger” itself means home or household in Mongolia. Today, more than half of Mongolians live in gers.  Large cities, like Ulaanbataar, have “yurt quarters” separated from other development zones by tall fences.

The concept of traditional Yurts is evolved into an idea of modern luxury outhouse and tourist camps for those searching relaxation and cozy weekends. Here are such example of a beautiful luxurious yurt well equipped with modern amenities.

Inside a Luxury Yurt
Yurt-themed tourist camp under construction in Inner Mongolia, China. Note that traditional yurts do not have window

YURT QUARTERS

The yurt quarter lifestyle is much more communal than traditional city life. The space is shared by large families promoting community living. Gers or other dwellings in yurt quarters are rarely connected to the city’s water supplies, so saunas, spas, and bathhouses are used collectively.

Modern yurts are rather permanent structures built on a wooden platform. They often use modern materials such as steam-bent wooden framing or metal framing, canvas or tarpaulin, plexiglass dome, wire rope, or radiant insulation which make modern yurts more sturdy and long-lasting.

Mongolian Family in Yurt

INSPIRATION: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY

RELATED: JALI- A POPULAR LATTICEWORK

IMAGE SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, FLICKR

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