20 Interesting Facts about Yurt, the Cradle of Nomad’s Life

Yurt is a cradle of nomad’s life. It’s an ideal solution for those who don’t like corners. Okay, to be serious, this kind of building has deep roots in history.


From Anatolia to Mongolia

Yurts are common on the territory from Anatolia to Mongolia, and it’s not possible to state which one of the ancient nomad tribes came up with its original design. Still, it is clearly an invention dating back a long, long time ago.


Classic dwelling of nomads

Yurt is a classic dwelling of nomads in Asia. The most general meaning of the Turkic word “jurt” is “people”, and also — “pasture”, “ancestral lands”. In Kyrgyz and Kazakh languages the word “ata-jurt” means “homeland”, literally “father’s home”. In modern Mongolian the word “yurt” (“ger”) is synonymous to “home”. In Tuvan language “yurt” is pronounced as “ög” that with addition of “-bule” will make the word “family”.


Male and female sections

Yurt is a mobile transportable home that is easily assembled and disassembled; it’s cool inside in summer and warm in winter. On average, a family will spend an hour to mount a yurt. Inside, yurt is divided into two parts — male (closer to the entrance, the ground) and female. The custom dates back to ancient times. In the middle of yurt there’s a hearth and the fire. Today a burning stove can be installed inside. The ornament of felt rug by the entrance symbolizes happiness and long life. When moving to another location, the construction was packed onto camels and horses. Yurt presents an acme of nomad architecture and folk arts and crafts.


“Diary of a Trip to Issyk-Kul”

Excellent qualities of yurts were indicated by scientists in pre-revolution times and travelers to Soviet Kyrgyzstan. Materials about culture and way of life of the people — in particular, about the yurt dwelling and its advantages — are reflected in travel journals of Ch. Ch. Valikhanov “The Diary of a Trip to Issyk-Kul”, “Notes about the Kyrgyz”, and other works. P. P. Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky too wrote about Kyrgyz yurt in his work “Travels in the Tian’-Shan’”. During his travels to Karakol in 1846 N. M. Przhevalsky lived in a Kyrgyz yurt and valued it highly. Another prominent Central Asia explorer A. P. Fedchenko was particularly interested in how yurt details are created.

“Yurt is already a great step in civilization progress of humanity; it is warmer in yurt, and more spacious, one can light the fire there, which is unthinkable in a tent… yurt is more comfortable than tent”, — wrote L. F. Kostenko who lived in a yurt during his expedition to Pamir-Altai mountains.


Historians on yurt ingenuity

One of the first descriptions of Kyrguz yurt in Soviet period belongs to a famous ethnographer S. M. Abramzon. Studying material culture of the Kyrgyz, E. I. Makhova distinguished the two types of yurt and determined areas of their application. Antipina wrote on peculiarities of transportable dwellings of the southern Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz yurt is original, although its construction has a lot of similar traits with yurts of other nomadic and seminomadic peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, southern Siberia and Mongols. But the most distinctive similarity, almost identical, is found in comparison with Kazakh yurt, which cannot be taken as anything else than a manifestation of close ethnic connection of the two nations.


Yurts are known since hun times

Yurt is considered to have appeared in the Late Bronze Age, in XII-IX B.C., and according to some historians the closest similarity is found in dwellings of Adrons. Although, Andron homes were huts made of wooden beams. Thus, historians generally find this version ungrounded. It is possible yurt emerged in a later period, around VIII-V B.C. Presumably, yurts are known since the times of the Huns.


Turks VS Mongols

Yurt construction by Turks and Mongols has differences. Kazakh and Turkmen yurts have two-folding wooden doors. In Kazakh and Kyrgyz yurts felt rug is often used instead of a wooden door.


Rock murals

Kazakh yurts are lower than those of the Kyrgyz because of strong winds in prairies. Rock paintings give an idea about transportable homes of ancient nomads.


Easily adjusted lighting and ventilation

Thanks to its usability, yurt is still used often by stockbreeders in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. One of yurt’s peculiarities is that its constructions allows to easily regulate lighting and ventilation. Without filling the space, smoke goes out through tundyuk — a hole in the center of the dome. In the daylight time it lets the light in, and in the night it is easily covered (by pulling the lariat) to keep the warmth. When it’s hot, koshmas [felt carpets] on the sides are lifted so that yurt is aired from any side through wall lattice carcass (kerege) letting people stay in cool, aired shadow.

Yurt varieties

There are two varieties of Kyrgyz yurts. The main distinction lies in the form of the dome. In the north of the country, with the exception of Talas valley, the dome form is more of a cone. In the south of Kyrgyzstan, in Talas and Chatkal valleys, the dome is more sloping and is of semi-sphere form due to a stronger curve of the lower section of dome poles. Yurts also differed in decor, both interior and exterior; south and north regional complexes are quite distinctive in this aspect. Their decor reflects aesthetic tastes of the people, their ethnic connections; preserved are strict canons established by centuries old customs and traditions.


Yurt interior

Interior drapery in yurts of wealthy Kyrgyz was made of velvet, silk, velveteen, and so on, sometimes — of simple calico. Ropes (“djel boo”), attached on both sides to the rim, were also part of interior decoration. They were spun of wool with horsehair. The Kyrgyz, as did the Kazakhs, widely used hair, mostly horsehair, to spin ropes and lassos — similarly to ancient nomads of south Siberia.


Outside decoration

One of the outer decor elements of Kyrgyz yurt is a felt stripe, 20-25 cm wide, with tetege applique. It was sown to the lower rim of uzuk. Over tetege, on the four sides of the felt dome appliques of red (sometimes, black) cut-out felt were sown — there were called “crow clutches” (“kush tyrmal”), “bear pawn” (“ayu taman”), and others. Those details underscored yurt’s peculiar beauty. It is possible that in the distant past they were considered to protect the yurt. From the outside yurt was engirdled by a felt rope, on Tien Shan it was a felt stripe with ornaments, 10-20 cm wide, and in the south of Kyrgyzstan — an embroidered braid.


Yurt was set up by women

For an experienced master it can take a month to design a yurt that will serve for more than a decade. The right way of assembling yurt was of great importance: grid stability and the correct installment of poles of the dome. By the way, setting up yurt was women’s responsibility, men only helped to lift the heavy rim. The place was prepared in advance, before the work was to begin.

It is forbidden to step of yurt door sill

Some customs of visiting yurt are still preserved. For example, one cannot step on yurt’s door sill or walk in with any load. As yurt was mounted, the entrance was chosen based on various factors: location landscape and direction of the wind. Generally, orientations to the east and to the center of ail prevailed.


There were yurts for the second and the third wives

In winter and summer wealthy Kyrgyz, along with a posh yurt, would always set up a smaller yurt (“ashkana üy”). It was meant for cooking food and storing food supplies. In addition to the main one, wealthy Kyrgyz would have yurts for the second and the third wives, smaller in size, as well as yurts for married sons. They differed from yurts of common Kyrgyz in quality and aesthetics. There were also temporary yurts — guest houses (“meyman üy”) that were set up for the occasion of big holidays, funerals or wakes. They were quickly disassembled after guests left. Decorations for the guest yurt were taken from the main one. There was no difference in construction of these yurts.

Don not speak ill about yurt

The Kyrgyz had various customs associated with yurt. First of all, the attitude to yurt and its utensils was particularly careful. It wasn’t acceptable to speak negatively about yurt. Masters specializing in yurt construction as well as female artisans enjoyed respectful treatment. There was a custom called “üy toyu” — a housewarming bash. When a family mounted a new yurt, there was surely a festivity in celebration.

Sacred fire

There were various customs related to fire. In Kyrgyz perception fire had a purifying power. No one would spit in it or splash with water, it was forbidden to walk around fire or jump over it. Apart from a transportable home, the Kyrgyz people also had homes of stationary, permanent kind — “üy”, “tam üy”. Homes of this kind began to emerge in mass numbers in the XIX century, in the period of transition to a settled way of life.

Ornaments reflect colors and forms

In yurt, day would begin at dawn. At this time women were already making breakfast and putting food into bags of the men herding cattle on pastures. After seeing men off, women would get to house work. Boys who could hardly walk were taught horse-riding. Girls were taught to cook, embroider and create traditional ornaments decorating shyrdaks, ala-kiyizes and tush-kyizes [traditional embroidered drapery or carpets]. These carpets were hung on the walls or placed on the floor in yurt, and they had not only a practical purpose — keeping home warm — but also performed an aesthetic function. The ornaments reflect colors and forms of the nature — such as, for instance, a rich variety of shades and fragility of flower petals, eagles with proudly arched wings, flowing shades of the blue skies.

How yurt is used in New Zealand

New Zealand citizens use yurts as chambers: some use transportable homes during travels as additional place to stay when tourist season is at its peak; others have them as guest houses, artist studios, workshops, places for meditation and recovery or as play locations for kids. “There’s some magic in those yurts,” — thinks Kelly Black, who lives in a yurt in Arrowtown, the coldest place in New Zealand in winter. — “There is something in round structures, a connection with the outside world, birds, my horse.”


Connection with the past

Though yurt preserved its practical application in everyday life, it has largely become a museum exhibit. It is still used by people in the region, and yurt plays important part in life of Kyrgyz chaban (shepherd). And while architecture styles and city planning trends come and go, yurt remains a solid and longstanding connection with the past.

e8572da8070f228e5c5d7ee8920dc04aBased on publications by historians and open resources.

Original is here