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YURTS: living inside a mandala
by Valerie Sartor
2008-02-19 09:36:05
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Round and warm, creative and comfortable, yurt constructions have long rode an unusual wave of popularity by symbolizing an ancient link to the earth as well as an alternative, portable lifestyle. For many, these breast shaped domiciles radiate pagan female spirituality while simultaneously conjuring up Golden Hordes of macho Mongol warriors.

The Russian word yurta, Mongolian ger, and Chinese mung gu bao represent much more than glorified tents; the original Turkic words: oy, ev or uy signify "dwelling place", specifically one's "homeland". Turkish yurts, the oldest, date back to the 4th century BC, while Bronze Age etchings depict various designs found from Siberia to the Caspian Sea, while the Scythians and Pazaryks, Uighurs, Khitais and Mongols, all constructed yurts after encountering fierce Turkish tribes 2500 years ago.

Turks bequeathed their design to Mongolian tribes living south of Lake Baikal and in the Altai; they placed these dwellings on both carts and upon the earth. Other Central Asians used yurts for rituals and residences, with Uighurs becoming noted for their vibrant blue felt coverings during the 8th and 9th centuries.

These flexible domiciles spread throughout vast inhospitable regions: polar tundras, Siberian steppes and the cruel Gobi. Wonderfully insulated, yurts keep householders warm in temperatures of -40 degrees Fahrenheit and cool in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Indeed, Turkish gypsy ancestors still roam from Lapland to Spain in modern portable yurts, campers and RVs, a far cry from their ancient wooden ox carts covered with animal pelts.

In Mongolian occupied territories ger designs morphed into three utilitarian types, becoming utterly round and aerodynamic as opposed to the ancient conical, tipi-like structure still used today by a small Mongolian minority of reindeer herders known as the Ewenki.

Today the classic Turkic or Khazak yurt is often two tiered, with a bentwood roof and crown, some having pointed roofs, but the circular ger remains the most common and home for 75% of the nomadic population living throughout parts of China, Russia, Mongolia and Siberia.

With willow slats lashed together by rawhide, forming a collapsible circular latticework, Mongolians still construct gers that always front southward. A crown ring sets upon two poles, centering the structure and allowing smoke to exit. Roof poles connect to the crown, circumventing the lattice frame, which is bound by an adjustable tension rope. Up to six felt layers pad the ger, and provide personal canopies for artwork.

Westerners have adopted and enhanced yurt prototypes from around the globe, using them for recreation, residences and personal pleasures. Modern yurts differ in size, trellis and roof pool curvature, doors, colors and lintel shapes, roof wheel spoke numbers and aesthetic designs. Although the basic structural motif hasn't changed among ethnic groups in centuries, new materials have been introduced: plastics, styofoams and manmade textiles. Certainly felt acts an excellent insulator and repels water but few women, Mongolian or modern, are now willing to beat, massage and pound 180 sheepskins in order to produce one standard felt yurt cover. Modern but ancient, yurts exemplify ingenious design.

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Alexandra Pereira2008-02-19 22:17:55
Thank you, Valerie, for your great articles once again!

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