A yurt is an ancient shelter design originally developed over three thousand years ago by nomadic peoples living on the rugged, windswept steppes of Central Asia. Traditionally wrapped in animal skins, furs or felts, the outside of the yurt was traditionally decorated with symbolic designs that represented each group’s cultural heritage. And the structure’s pièce de résistance, the ceiling window centred at the top of the yurt, was a highly-valued heirloom passed down from generation to generation.
In the Turkic languages, these shelters were known as “jurts”, but other civilizations have known them as a “ger” in Mongolian and as “yurta” in the Russian language (because of their long history of use in the region now known as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan). In fact, in Kazakh and Kyrgyz, these shelters are so woven into their culture that the term “Ata-Zhurt” quite literally means “Father’s House” and represents the native land of one’s ancestors.
But when we say these structures have a rich and deep history in human civilization, we’re not just speaking of history in Central Asia!
People have long-regarded these structures as both profoundly beautiful and elegantly simple, as far back as Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian and geographer that lived in the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus (now part of modern-day Turkey). He was the first to document this nomadic shelter and mentioned them in his seminal work Historia, the founding work of history in western literature. In fact, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deemed these structures to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
“The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.” -UNESCO