Yurts have existed for thousands of years in Central Asia, in virtually the same form as they exist today. They are ideal dwellings for the nomadic cultures of the Central Asian steppe. A steppe is dry, flat grassland with no trees and a cooler climate than other types of grasslands, such as savannas and prairies.
The steppe is a very windy biome because no trees, shrubs, or tall grasses serve as windbreaks. The circular shape of yurts makes them able to resist winds from any direction. Only the door of the yurt is vulnerable, and yurt doors are very strong and modern. Theyre often made of a wooden frame, and sometimes the door itself is made of wood, as opposed to a flap opening in the felt. This strengthens the door, and the yurt, against the strong winds of the steppe. The sloping, aerodynamic shape of the roof also means winds are unlikely to tear off roof beams.
Mongolian nomads historically moved three to four times a year. Not only did gers make this easy by being so fast to set up, they were also very light. Large family gers could be entirely dismantled in an hour and hauled on two or three pack animals, such as horses, camels, or yaks. Farther west, in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, nomads used donkeys as pack animals for gers.
Because the steppe has no trees, nomads had to trade with residents of river valleys for wood. Merchants would sell ger construction materials in different forms. For the least amount of money, they would sell logs of willow or birch. For a medium price, consumers could buy pre-cut poles. For the highest price, they could buy complete khana.
The thick felt, or non-woven wool, used to cover the ger came from the nomads own animals. Central Asian nomads were herders. They had sheep, goats, and yak. Cashmere, for instance, one of the softest, lightest wools, comes from Mongolian goats.
Yurts have been well-documented through history. The earliest evidence of yurt dwellings is found in Bronze Age rock etchings in Siberia. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about yurts used by the Scythian people around 440 BCE. Scythians were nomadic people from the land surrounding the Black and Caspian Seas. Italian explorer Marco Polo detailed the gers used by Mongols in the time he lived with them, between 1274 and 1291.
Mongolian leader Genghis Khan commanded his entire empire from a large ger. That empire stretched throughout all of Central Asia, from the Korean Peninsula in the east; through China, Tibet, and Iran in the southwest; and through Georgia and Russia in the north. Genghis Khans ger was mounted on a huge, wheeled cart pulled by 22 oxen. The ger was 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter and guarded at all times by Mongolian soldiers and cavalry.
As the Mongol Empire expanded, it eventually reached eastern Europe. The steppe of what is now Turkey, Hungary and Romania was conquered by the successors of Genghis Khan. As the Mongols expanded their empire, they brought their yurt culture with them. Yurts were very common in Turkey until the 1960s and 1970s, and they are still found in rural areas of Hungary.
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