Articles on Central Asia: Traditional yurt

A traditional yurt (from the Turkic languages) is a portable, round tent covered dwelling with skins or felt and used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia. The structure comprises an angled assembly or latticework of pieces of wood for walls, a door frame, ribs (poles, rafters), and a wheel (crown, compression ring) possibly steam-bent. The roof structure is often self-supporting but large yurts may have interior posts supporting the crown. The top of the wall of self-supporting yurts is prevented from spreading by means of a tension band which opposes the force of the roof ribs. Modern yurts may be permanently built on a wooden platform; they may use modern materials such as steam-bent wooden framing or metal framing, canvas or tarpaulin, Plexiglas dome, wire rope, or radiant insulation.

Yurts have been a distinctive feature of life in Central Asia for at least three thousand years. The first written description of a yurt used as a dwelling was recorded by the 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 AD 300.

Traditional yurts consist of an expanding wooden circular frame carrying a felt cover. The felt is made from the wool of the flocks of sheep that accompany the pastoralists. 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 frame consists of one or more expanding lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, bent roof poles and a crown. The wood frame is covered with pieces of felt. Depending on availability, the felt is additionally covered with canvas and/or sun-covers. The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons. The structure is kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof. They vary with different sizes, and relative weight.

A yurt is designed to be dismantled and the parts carried compactly on camels or yaks to be rebuilt on another site. Complete construction takes around 2 hours. The traditional decoration within a yurt is primarily pattern-based. These patterns are generally not according to taste, but are derived from sacred ornaments with certain symbolism.  Repeating geometric patterns are also widely used. The most widespread geometric pattern is the continuous hammer or walking pattern. Commonly used as a border decoration, it represents unending strength and constant movement. Another common pattern is a symbol of long life and happiness. All patterns can be found among not only the yurts themselves, but also on embroidery, furniture, books, clothing, doors, and other objects.

The wooden crown of the yurtis itself emblematic in many Central Asian cultures. In old Kazakh communities, the yurt itself would often be repaired and rebuilt, but the shangyrak would remain intact, passed from father to son upon the father's death. A family's length of heritage could be measured by the accumulation of stains on the shangrak from decades of smoke passing through it. A stylized version of the crown is in the center of the coat of arms of Kazakhstan, and forms the main image on the flag of Kyrgyzstan.

Today the yurt is seen as a nationalistic symbol among many Central Asian groups, and as such, yurts may be used as cafés (especially those specialising in traditional food), museums (especially relating to national culture), and souvenir shops.

 

 

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