The yurt has been the main habitation of Central Asian nomads for thousands of years and continues to be the main form of dwelling in Mongolian steppe. These structures are known in many parts of the world by their Russian name, yurt, while in Mongolia these sturdy, attractive homes are called Ger.
The yurt has many unique features that make it ideally suited to serve as a dwelling for nomads in Central Asia, who must move regularly and face severe climatic conditions for much of the year (see “Yurts and Nomads” photo album).
Portability: The yurt is easy to assemble, dismantle and carry. Depending on the size, a yurt can be assembled or dismantled in anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours. After dismantling, the various parts of the yurt are loaded onto camels, horses and ox carts for transport.
As nomadic herders move at least three or four times a year in the search for good grazing lands, this feature is of essential importance. During times of war, ancient nomadic warriors were constantly on the move and the portability of yurts provided them with an opportunity to carry their homes with them wherever they went.
Air circulation: The yurt has an opening in the center of the roof, which is called the crown or toono. Because the crown is located at the top, fresh air regularly circulates through the yurt as cold air flows down and hot air flows upward.Because the crown is located in the middle of the roof, the air coming through it reaches every part of the interior, providing fresh air for every one regardless of where they are in the yurt.
Ease of heating and cooling: The temperature in Mongolia ranges from -31 to + 104 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 to +40 degrees Celsius) depending on the season. The yurt is designed to be adapted to provide comfort to its inhabitants in both cold and warm conditions. The central wood-burning stove provides heat evenly throughout the yurt when required, with extra layers of felt added wrapped round the structure in the coldest months to provide insulation.
When it is hot, the lower end of the soft covering of the yurt is raised slightly and held in place with belts on the exterior. This increases the air flow inside the yurt and has a pleasant cooling effect. A covering is pulled over the opening in the crown in the summer heat to prevent sunlight from heating the interior of the yurt. This covering is also pulled into place to keep the rain out. These features mean that yurts are a cool oasis in the heat of the summer on the open grasslands and a cozy retreat during the biting cold of the winter months.
Wind resistance: The highlands and open plains of Mongolia are quite windy. On the open steppes and in desert regions, the wind can be strong enough to knock over any other type of portable dwelling. The circular shape of the yurt and the secure manner in which the outer covering is attached deflect these winds and do not affect the yurt’s stability, regardless of the direction from which the wind originates.