Mongolian tents

Mongols have been living in Mongolian tents at least the 6th century A.D. These dwellings are called yurts and during the Mongol Empire, they consisted of a round, collapsible wooden frame covered in felt.

The roof was formed from about 80 wooden rods attached at one end to the wall frame and at the other to an iron ring in the center, providing a sturdy base for the felt roof. Without the roof in place, this frame would have resembled a large wooden wheel with the wooden spokes converging at the iron ring.

The top of the roof was usually about five feet higher than the walls so precipitation would run to the ground. The ring at the peak of the yurt could be left open as a vent for smoke and a window for sunlight, or it could be closed with a piece of felt. Doors were made from a felt flap or, for richer families, out of wood.

The first known Mongolian tent was seen engraved on a bronze bowl that was found in Zagros Mountains of southern Iran, dating back to 600 B.C., but the felt tent probably did not arrive in Mongolia for another thousand years.

When the yurt did arrive, however, it quickly came into widespread use because of its ability to act in concert with the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols.

Most of the Mongol people were herders and moved constantly from southern regions in the winter months to the northern steppes in summer as well as moving periodically to fresh pastures.

The yurts size and the felt walls made them relatively cool in the summers and warm in the winters allowing the Mongols to live in the same dwelling year-round. Disassembling the yurts only took about an hour, as did putting them back up in a new location.

This is why there are still some doubts today about the assumption that the yurts have ever been really put on carts pulled by oxen for transporting them from camp to camp, without disassembling them, or if these carts are just a legend.

Some travelers, like Marco Polo, did mention them in their writings: “They [the Mongols] have circular houses made of wood and covered with felt, which they carry about with them on four wheeled wagons wherever they go. For the framework of rods is so neatly constructed that it is light to carry.” Mongolian tents could be heated with cow pies, found in abundance with the traveling herds, so no timber was needed. The felt for the covering was made from wool that was taken from sheep also present in most Mongol’s herds. The wooden frame was handed down from one generation to the next and seldom had to be replaced.