Sultan Palace Merv

Nomad's Dwelling - Yurt History, Structure and Advantages

Yurts are one of the oldest forms of indigenous shelter, still used today by nomads from Turkey to Mongolia. In the vast land spaces of Central Asia, Eurasia, two tribal groupings have remained distinct. The Turkic tribes wandering from China in the east, to Iran lands in the west. The Mongolian tribes, which thought to have originated in Buryat regions of Siberia (ranged from Siberian regions of Buryatia and Tuva in the north, through Mongolia, and south to the Inner Mongolia region in China).

When these tribes started using the yurts? No one really knows. Some scholars believe Turkic tribes used the yurt in the middle of the first millennium AD. Others traced it back to the Scytho-Sakian era, 8th -10th centuries BC.

Nomads did not leave behind the buildings, monuments or libraries. The perishable wood and felt dwellings erected directly on the ground and then moved from encampment to encampment.

Accordingly, to the oral traditions of the tribes, the yurt's connection to the tribal identity dates back even further. For example, the Gokleng Turkmen claim that the prophet Nuh (Noah) created the yurt. Near Eastern historian Mirkhwand, writing in the late 15th century, proposed that the yurt invented by Noah's grandson Turk, son of Japheth.

The Chinese poet Po Chu-I, 829-846 AD, described the yurt in his poem. Middle East Al- Yaqubi wrote about the Turkic tribes: These Turks have neither refuges at halting places nor strongholds. They only pitch Turkish domes, which are ribbed and the nails are strips from the hides of pack animals and cattle, and the coverings are felts.

The Turkic tribes call their round nomadic shelters uy (uiy), oy (oey), ev, og. This term means home or dwelling. (Mongol yurts – Mongol Ger, Buryat Log Ger). Turkic tribes distinct between Kara Oy (black dwelling) and Ak Oy (white dwelling). The lighter colored (white) felt is made with less common white wool. It is considered more desirable, reserved for weddings and ceremonial purposes or afforded by the wealthy.

The rounded (domed) shape of yurt comes from its bentwood roof struts. The simple, lightweight center ring is also coming for earlier times. The number of slats placed across the center ring varies from tribe to tribe. The trellis wall are usually around 130 - 150 cm tall. The yurts have a simple, lightweight doorframe that is taken apart from transport. The threshold is low, although it may be taller in snowy climates. The door made from felt, often backed with a reed for stiffness. Door covering could be a rug (ensi). The wooden doors have been adapted later, formerly used by tribal leaders.

Three different woven belts used with a yurt. One belt, which can be thin or wide, stretches from the doorframe around the upper perimeter of the yurta at the level of the top trellis crossing. This functions as the tension band, holding the trellis wall in place against the outward thrust of the roof struts. A wide bellyband may be tied around the center of the trellis wall. A third thin belt is wound around each roof strut in turn, holding the struts at the correct spacing and keeping them from twisting. The three bands are decorative as well as functional.

Many tribes use reed or cane mats on their walls, often as a summer covering to allow for airflow while keeping out the herd animals. They are also used in conjunction with the wall felts, sometimes the reed mats are on the outside, sometimes on the inside. The many variations between the clans are due the availability of resources, cultural traditions and climate.

Some tribes applied more decoration in their yurts. Woodwork may be painted red or brown. Yurts interior are full of multicolored felts and rugs and woven elements, sometimes with decorative tassels hanging from the roof ring.

The floor of the yurt covered first with felted rugs forming a soft warm surface for the people to walk and sit on. The inside walls lined with woven carpets servicing as day decorations and used as bedding during a night.

Under the high central ring, to allow air to circulate inside, was a stove (or fire), to cook meals for the family or to heat the interior of the yurt. In front of the stove, a specially shaped rug keeping the sparks falling on other rugs or coverings. The stove framed with mud bricks or wood around one meter on each side.

Yurt interior divided into 4 sections. Near the door in front of the yurt, people left the shoes, tied up animals, receiving ordinary guests. Behind the stove, family sleeping area and place to meet the respected guests. Where family best carpet unrolled. At night, the family sleep in a row along the back of a yurt. The men were on one side and women on the other, their head pointing to the Mecca.

The work area of men was on one side of the stove, the women's part on the other side. Both sides furnished with the equipment required to perform the certain tasks.

Accordingly, to the tribe, the assigned side for each sex may differ to the left or to the right from central roof opening. The women's side known as pot area, with all supplies for cooking stored on posts or trestles above the ground. The different rug bags laced on the wall with sheers, spoons, clothes… The men's side known as provisions side. For the salt, grain, rice, other dried food stored into paired bags hanging on the wall, newly shorn fleeces, unused felts, area for the arms.

All the materials of the Central Asia yurt are available on the steppe and can be processed by the herders themselves. However, it is common practice for nomads to purchase the wooden framework from a nomad carpenter or a settled craftsman, who lives near the source of wood (willow or fir) and has the requisite tools and equipment on hand.

The trellis wall unit is made up of 10 to 16 whole willow rods (or split wooden laths) that run in each direction, shorter rods make up the corners. Holes are drilled in the rods at a precise spacing with either a hot iron or a bow drill. Then wet rawhide strips are knotted, pulled through the hole, knotted again and cut. As the hide dries, it tightens and draws the slats together.

The crisscrosses at the top of the wall are called <heads> and at the bottom, it is called <feet>. Usually, foot sections are longer than the head sections to provide greater traction and the stability for the yurt. A typical yurt uses four lattice wall sections. Wealthy families may have a large yurt of six to eight sections. Yurt size is also measured by the number of heads along the top of the trellis. A yurt of 60 heads is standard family size, 80-100 heads is considered large.

The bentwood roof poles shaped by soaking and heating them to soften the wood and then bending them in a jig. In a nomadic situation, the poles are heated in a pile of composting dung, or a flue is dug into the ground to create a fire or steam box. A barrel stove may be used for the same purpose in a village context.

The jug for the rood poles can be made of pegs hammered into a log, or it may be a permanent setup. Once bent, the roof poles are stacked and left for up a week on a template of stakes driven into the ground to set the curve. The roof poles have a hole drilled in the bottom end through which a loop or lanyard is tied. Turkic tribes tie the roof struts to the top of the lattice wall using a figure-eight pattern. The top end of the roof pole is usually squared or rounded keeping the center ring from twisting in high winds. The struts tied with bands at the curve to keep them in place. The center rings, two or three saplings bent into semicircles and fastened with rawhide strips or metal hoops.

One of tangible advantages of the yurt is that there are no corners to catch the wind, which naturally flows over and around the yurt.

Because of the combination of a central compression ring at the top of the roof and the encircling tension band where the roof meets the wall, long roof spans are possible without any internal support system (like posts, trusses or beams). This gives the yurt an uncommon feeling of spaciousness and uplift. The roof design also creates an incredibly strong and resilient structure that is uniquely equipped to withstand earthquakes, strong winds and heavy snow loads.