What is a yurt?
The yurt can be seen as one of the best invention of the Central Asian nations, a unique piece of masterwork in early global civilization history. A yurt is a common type of housing for Turkic countries and is known as a Ger in Mongolia. They are perfectly structured to satisfy nomadic dwellers' requirements: transportable, easily disassembled, and quickly set up in a new area, warm in winter and cool in summer. There are two types of yurts: “Kazakh” and “Kalmyk” yurts distinguished by their form. Kazakh yurts are round compared to Kalmyk type yurts that are narrower at the top. In Kazakh, yurts are named “kyyz uy” which translates to “felt house.” Every utility or tool installed in the yurt serves in the household and has acquired a specific philosophical meaning and became a quintessence of ancient Kazakh culture.
Every piece in the yurt is covered with colorful traditional ornaments. Especially, decorative pieces such as these beautiful floor mats, carpets, blankets and pillows.
What is a yurt made of?
One of the most exciting features of “kyyz uy” is that the yurt can be expanded or scaled-down and even made into a multi-room house suitably to the host's needs. It is possible due to the peculiarity of each component of the yurt.
The layout of Kazakh yurt includes several layers:
- Wooden frame named “suyek”. Literal translation of this word means “bones” or “bone structure.”
- Felt (also includes a structure named “shi”)
- Bau-shu - different types of ropes and cords used in a household as building materials
The yurt structure is sometimes called “Bones” and made of a strong but flexible type of wood such as birch or willow. They are firm and extremely durable compared to other wood types available in the area. After frame materials are carefully selected, they are dried in the shade for six months. When the time has come, the master carves the wood into a necessary shape and puts them into a mold. The setting of the yurt consists of different formations: “kerege,” “syqyrlaq,” “uyk,” “shanyraq.”
Another essential piece of the yurt is “shi”. It is a colorful, ornamented mat made of cane and felt. It is placed on the yurt walls for thermal insulation and to prevent the intrusion of insects. Besides, shi serves as a great decoration of the interior.
Kerege’ is a wooden lattice that makes-up the walls of the house. The width and firmness of the yurt entirely depend on it. The Kerege’ is formed by several wooden bars crisscrossing each other and fastened together by leather threads. That is how the wooden walls were easy to fold and put back up again.
Another exciting component of the base is syqyrlak. In translation from Kazakh, “syqyrlak” means squeaky. It is a name for two wooden doors that mark the main entrance of the house. Each entry is decorated with delicate carving and, sometimes, colorful ornaments. Members of wealthy families and royalty often incrusted doors with silver, gold, or expensive jewels.
Shanyraq is a circle-shaped structure on the top center of the yurt. It is constructed from several semi-lunar bars and a wooden circle. It has multiple functions in the house: It serves as a chimney by letting out the smoke coming from the fireplace. During the day, sun rays shine through the “shanyraq” and create a natural light source. Apart from general everyday use, “Shanyraq” has a philosophical meaning as well. Since ancient times, the shanyraq symbolizes family, unity, home, happiness, and prosperity. The youngest sons of the house often inherited the shanyraq from their fathers as a sign of procreation. When renovating the house, all other parts could be changed by newer ones. However, old shanyraq was not replaced because throwing away or breaking it was considered a great sin.
Red color often prevails in the interior design of the yurt. According to traditional beliefs, the red color symbolizes the beginning of new life, richness, fruitfulness, and prosperity.
“Uyk” is a set of spear-shaped bars that connect the shanyraq and kerege. They are slightly pointed and bent inwards in the upper part. Each bar is inserted into a matching cell on the shanyraq and tied to the kerege by the lower leg. This is how the roof of the yurt gets its familiar dome shape.
When the whole carcass is made, masters cover the wood with oil to make it resistant to dampness and paint it with red or brown dye. The process of creating a frame is very delicate and time-consuming since every piece has its peculiarity. Therefore, only proven masters can build a firm carcass of the house. In Kazakhstan, the craftsmen who make the yurts are named “uyshy,” and the process of building is called `’uy basu”.
Felt for “kyyz uy,” is made of white, autumn sheep fur. Different types of felt are used for building a yurt. Material is placed along the walls (kerege), which is named “tuyrlyk”. The one covering the roof area is “uzyk”; the other covering shanyraq is referred to as “tundyk.” The technology of making felt is unique, labor-intensive, and scrupulous. The final steps are dyed with white chalk to give the yurt a beautiful appearance and increase its lifespan and resistance to rain, cold or hot weather. Another essential piece of the yurt is “shi”. It is a colorful, ornamented mat made of cane and felt. It is placed on the yurt walls for thermal insulation and to prevent the intrusion of insects. Besides, shi serves as a great decoration of the interior.
Nowadays, yurts are being assembled according to the modern requirements of the world. Such yurts are comfortable and cozy enough for several night stays and fully-fledged living. Therefore, the number of people moving from apartments to live in yurts is rising year by year.
Lastly, bau-shu is a set of ropes and cords used for fixating all materials together. Yurts are built without a single nail. Therefore, the whole construction is kept together with ropes. Apart from it, they are used in furnishing as well. For instance, “zhelbau” is an ornamented cord with four threads. It is used to secure shanyraq in place during windy days. However, in daily life, it becomes an intricate piece of decoration.