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What is a Yurt?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A yurt is a round domed shelter used by nomads across Central Asia. Several other cultures have adopted the basic yurt design and adopted it for their own needs; in the United States, for example, many alternative housing companies and contractors build structures which they refer to as “yurts.” A true yurt is designed to be lightweight and portable so that it can be moved along with its owner.

The tradition of the yurt is probably quite ancient. The basic design is essentially like an enhanced tent. The round shape is extremely supportive, and made stronger with the use of a wooden framework so that the yurt can withstand high winds and inclement weather. The domed roof promotes water runoff and prevents the accumulation of snow, maintaining the structural integrity of the yurt.

A well constructed yurt is extremely lightweight and it can be broken down into manageable components which are carried by camels, yaks, or other beasts of burden. Once the group of nomads reaches the next camping spot, the framework of the yurt can be quickly erected so that a covering of felt or skins can be attached. A skin or felt-covered yurt is very water resistant, and the thick covering will also help to insulate the interior.

These distinctive portable houses can be seen on the steppes of Central Asia and Russia, and they are closely associated with the nomadic culture of these regions. The word is derived from a Turkish term, yurta, which means “homeland.” The concept that a homeland is movable was carried over into the yurt, a secure home which nomads can carry with them. Yurts can be filled with bedding and other features of home, and many have space for stoves so that cooking can be performed indoors in poor weather.

A yurt can also be designed to occupy a fixed point. This trend is especially common in North America, where several companies specialize in manufacturing yurts of all sizes, along with sturdy wooden platforms to build them on. These homes tend to be cheaper to build than more conventional homes, and they often use construction materials like reclaimed wood and steel so that they are more environmentally efficient. Although the yurts are not traditional because they are not portable, they share the classic round shape of classical yurts, along with the gently sloped roof, often with an opening or skylight at the top so that residents can see the sky.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By PinkLady4 — On Jul 06, 2011

@Clairdelune - I've also been looking for a place to go for a winter vacation with the family. Colorado is one state that has places you can rent yurts for vacation in any season.

Skiing and snowshoeing are available right outside the door. In the summer, there are hiking, trail biking, and fishing.

Yurts are big, you can fit up to 8 people in them. There are cooking and eating supplies.

Yurts are warm and cozy in the winter. They are airy and light.

By Clairdelune — On Jul 05, 2011

I've heard that you can rent a large yurt in the back country. Does anyone know any details about this? Our family would like to take a winter vacation, but don't want to stay in a hoity-toity lodge. We want a place to cook and some comfort after a day on the slopes. But we also want to be out in nature. We thought staying in a yurt would be a good idea.

By fify — On Jul 04, 2011

On my Asia trip, my group ate at a restaurant that was literally in a yurt. I think it's sort of become a tourist attraction now. We wanted to eat there just to see what it looked like inside. It was a very nice ambiance because we were served local foods and everything was very ethnic and authentic. It's not a bad idea at all!

By bear78 — On Jul 04, 2011

I've always been fascinated about Russian culture and I've decided to make a yurt in the backyard for the kids, and if it comes out well, we could take it along to our camping trips.

I found out that there are several different types of yurts. The one described in this article, with a crown and wooden poles. There are two other kinds, one with two walls and a pointed roof and another with a metal crown and poles and an actual door.

The one with the door is very interesting, it actually seems to be the most secure and house like one out of all. This was the kind of yurt used by the Mongols. I still haven't decided if I want to go with this one or the traditional Kirgiz/Turkish one with the wooden crown.

By burcidi — On Jul 03, 2011

I have seen yurts before. The ones I saw were covered with a material made from wool and was decorated with designs and colors. It was summer and really hot outside but when we walked into the yurt, it was considerably cooler. Apparently, it keeps cool in the summer and warm in the winter time.

It was also much larger in size than I expected. I thought it was like a tent, but this was the size of a living room and could fit a family in it comfortably.

I think people of Central Asia were historically all nomads and had to move around often for food. Most of Central Asia became farmers so there aren't many people who are still nomadic and use yurts. Although I have heard that there are some groups that move around a lot.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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