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Yurts: A Brief History

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already somewhat acquainted with what a yurt is, or at least what one looks like. Round walls, fabric or canvas stretched tight over posts. Maybe you even have seen one in person before, stepped inside and marveled at the lattice encircling you, the roof poles stretching up like majestic columns supporting the great dome of the center ring, swept away on a cascade of awe in the beauty and the wonder of all that is Yurt…

Well, maybe not that much. But yurts are an undeniably interesting structure and living space, there’s something special about the roundness and simplicity of the design. There’s a reason they are growing increasingly popular with a new generation, and that is, to put it bluntly, yurts rock. But, where do they come from? Who made them? And how did they end up being designed and sold by an artisan woodworker in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada? A history, briefly.

In The Beginning, There Was Ger

The yurt, or ger, originated in the steppes of Central Asia at least three thousand years ago. The word yurt comes from a Turkic word referring to the imprint in the grass left behind by the structure. Yurts were historically a portable, round tent covered with felt made from the stretched hides of animal skins. Today, most modern yurt manufacturers use synthetic materials in the place of the felt, but the general design remains markedly similar to it’s original incarnation. While yurts are most commonly associated with the Mongolian people, they were, and still are, used by several distinct nomadic groups throughout Central Asia. Perhaps the most famous Mongolian, Genghis Khan, was said to command his entire army from a ger, or yurt. Under his leadership, the Mongols eventually conquered most of Asia and extended their reach into Europe. Pretty impressive for a guy living in a tent. And while hopefully none of you have dreams of being the next Genghis Khan, yurts have stood the test of time as far as being a useful and versatile structure.

But, the Mongols never Conquered California!?!

So, we know that yurts come from nomadic tribes of the Central Asian steppes. We know that the most famous member of these tribes was Genghis Khan, and that he directed his empire, from a yurt, to conquer a very, very large portion of the world in his time. But, how did yurts end up scattered around the globe, today? Are they abandoned outposts of lost Mongolian battalions, left waiting for the order to strike from their great leader?

No. Yurts are spread around the globe today primarily because in addition to being expert horsemen, Mongolians also have a great sense for home design, and people today still recognize this. While yurt culture left over from the Mongol empire can still be seen in parts of Turkey and even Hungary, the modern yurt renaissance started in the late 1970’s, popularized by back-to-the-landers, alternative builders, and, yes, hippies. Originally viewed perhaps somewhat disdainfully by society at large as glorified tents, yurts have exploded in popularity in recent years as more people seek out affordable, alternative housing, that let’s them live closer to nature. From coastal retreat centers to state parks, Yurts are no longer just for hippies, but they are definitely hip.

So, from the Central Asian steppes to your yard, the yurt has traveled through thousands of years, and thousands of miles, to get to you. We’re proud to build in the legacy of all the yurt builders that have come before us, and to combine the traditional design with modern materials and techniques in order to offer you a strong, resilient, and beautiful structure. Happy spring, it's yurt time.

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