The roots of Mongolian architecture go back to very ancient times. Ancient constructions, early complexes of men's burials, which from even from the Stone, Bronze and Early Iron Ages are met quite often in Mongolia. Stone sculptures, rock paintings, burial sepulchers are very valuable materials for studying the primordial art. For instance, graves with quadrangular barriers, dated from the IV-III centuries B.C, are widely spread over the territory of the central part of Mongolia. In the first millennium of our era a series of states emerged on the territory of the Central Asia replacing each other. The ruins of settlements, fortresses, palaces and ancient strongholds of the periods can be still found in present day. Until now about 200 such monuments have already been found on the territory of Mongolia.
The complex of the King's palace was protected with fortifications, which in their turn were surrounded with water canals and had defensive role. The remains of stupas are the sighs of buildings, which stood on both sides of the canals. The colored frescoes of a Buddhist temple, laying under the palace of Ogoodei , which was found during the exploration of Khara Khorum, an ancient Mongolian capital, can also be considered as one of the monuments of the Uigur architecture.
The emergence, the rise and the decline of these cities reflect the common regularity of the development and peculiarities of the nomadic architecture.
The interiors of the Ger. The most honorary place in the ger is the northern side, straight opposite to the door, where earlier a home altar was placed. The left side is the woman's part, the right one- men's side. Along the walls chests, caskets, beds and other articles of everyday home life were placed in semi-circle. The men's part is the place for guests: at the centre, under the arch a hearth is situated. Near to it, on the left side of the ger, we can see utensils, buckets, plates and dishes kept, and milk products, skin bag with fermented mare's milk, horse harnesses and other articles of animal uses are on the right side from stove. Round form of the ger gives an opportunity to use the space as much as possible.
The door of the Mongolian Ger is always faced towards the south. The sun rays penetrating through the upper window and indicated time based on 12 month's lunar calendar. For example, at the exact mid day the sun light falls on the upper most center of the northern part of the ger. Additional vertical props-2 columns are placed to support the cupola of big gers. Sheds and tambours are made to protect from severe cold, strong wind and double door –to protect from snow storms and rains. Sometimes two gers are attached to each other. All these changes became necessary because of the settled way of life.
Nomadic tribes lived in “hurees” or in circle. Whenever the tribe moved to another place it was settled in a circle without fail. In the centre of the circle a hooded cart of an elder was fixed. A camp set up by nomads in this way had military and defensive purpose to repulse surprise attacks of enemy.
Images of “Gerlugs” are often seen on rock paintings of Bronze Age. There are over 50 of them, and proceeding from them it can be assumed that “Gerlugs” existed from very early times.
Wilhelm Roubrouc, a French traveler, who visited Mongolia in 1253, testifies in a book called “Travel to eastern countries”, that they put their houses on wheels, and woven switches serve as the walls of the house. The walls are joined at the top thus forming neck of the house. They are covered with white felt and the felt is often saturated with lime or bone powder to make it glitter brighter. Sometimes around the neck a black felt decorated with beautiful drawings on different themes is put. At the entrance of the house a felt covered with clothes of many bright colors is hanged up, and vines, trees birds and animals are made of colored felt.
Furthermore, W.Roubrouc writes that such dwelling is made in large forms, and the width between the wheels of a carriage is 20 feet or 6 meters. The traveler counted 22 bulls pulling one Ger carriage. An iron bush from wheels of 8 to 21 centimeters in diameter was found recently during the excavations of Khara Khorum ruins and confirms these reports. W.Roubrouc also depicts another variety of carts, sheltered square carts with doors, for the transportation of which camels were harnessed.
The sizes and the carrying capacities of these carriages demanded subtle engineer intellect, because a man had to think not only of traveling distance, but also about the easiness, comfort and safety of movement while crossing mountains and rivers. The system of disposition of nomadic tribe's dwellings and stands, the form and construction of yurtas and carriages were passed on from one generation to another. It becomes clear from sources that steppe aristocracy – kings and loyal people besides ordinary gers used also in the 13 century, Ger headquarters of large sizes for thousands of people.
All these Gers and marquees represent by itself a simplified model, a construction of nomadic architecture verified by time. And the distinguishing feature of it was the simplicity of assembling and disassembling system. The decorations and ornaments of these Gers also corresponded to the architecture itself: symbolic ornaments, allegorical images of animals were drawn in colors on silk, brocade, felt and skin. Appliques were also made on coverlets, and everybody present there enjoyed looking at them. The custom of the building gers, temples and fences using such ornaments and decorations, was continued till the beginning of the 20 century.
Towns and buildings in medieval centuries
The necessity of the significant development in economy, culture, trade, handicraft and metallurgy helped to build settlements, different in scales and in their extend of functional differentiation; stability of the state was followed by the strengthening of cities, by building frontier fortresses , with the increase in the number of settled inhabitants and improvement in agriculture.
The construction of Khara Khorum, the capital of Mongolian empire, played an important role in monumental architecture not only of the 13 century but in the whole history of the ancient Mongolian architecture. According to the information left by eye witnesses the city was surrounded by wall with 4 gates, and the distance between them was 3 miles. Various agriculture and animal goods were sold from gates. There were 12 different cult constructions in the city. All these constructions represented a whole city, an administrative capital, a gigantic town together with the Khan's palace, a military metallurgic basis, and garrisons of military forces, agricultural districts, ballast population, Bukhara and Chinese trade lines.
One of the greatest sights of them was 5 tiers Buddhist temple, built in 1256 on Munkh Khan's instruction. Its height was 300 chi /1 chi equals to 0.3 meter/ and the width is 22 meter. On the ground floor there were niches were the statues of different deities were kept. Another example is Ogoodei Khan's palace, which was square from made of 2 tier and with 8 by 8, altogether 64 columns, The entrance of the palace faced to the east; 2 tier gently sloping marquee roofs with tiles of green, red colors hung from the central axis. The roofs were decorated with sculptures and figures.
The disposition of walls, the arrangement of window opening provide large hall with illumination and ventilation. In the architectural composition of the palace the tradition of nomadic ger's structure and the planning of Kidan's constructions, i.e. the tradition of centric conception of the great steppe is noticeable.
According to the Roubrouc's description, a big silver tree, at the foot of which there were 4 silver lions, each of them has a pipe inside …. The ends of those pipes were turned down and each of them was made in the form of a golden snake's head. The tail of the snake swirled around the trunk of the tree. From the mouths of snakes 4 different drinks ran down. One was a wine, the other- a fermented mare's milk or koumiss, the third-honey, and the fourth –rice's beer. At the foot of the tree an angel made by Wilhelm stood.
On the territory of country, Mongolian Kings has several both settled and nomadic residences. Ogoodei khan had seasonal residences. Four times in a year the Khan with his retinues moved on determined route. Tsogt Taiji, an enlighther of the 17 century, an ardent fighter for the unity of the country ordered to build a castle surrounded with high walls, and fortifications. The complex of the castle was consisted of 6 temples and other constructions. The lower part of the wall was made up with stones, the upper one- with bricks, among which brick slabs with imprints of a hand, a characteristic of Kidan buildings, can be found.
The medieval cities of Mongolia are multifunctional town building formations which evolved under certain historical conditions, and they combined originally in itself the structure of nomadic and settled organization of life.
Mongolian architecture's development in 16-19 centuries
The next stage in the development of the Mongolian architecture is closely connected with the Lamaism, which was widely spread at the end of the 16 century. However, it was in the form of settled buildings. Although 17 century's town and temple buildings displayed mixed styles of the Tibetan and the Chinese, the basis of the Mongolian architecture was the structure of the nomadic ger and marquee.
The peculiarity of constructing ger and marquee became the most important sources for further development of the national architecture. In the settled way of life it was not necessary to carry or disassemble gers. Therefore, people began to erect them on special foundation. The construction of the frame of ger style building became more complicated. Various building materials began to be used for it, such as: beams and bricks. The form of it obtains round, square and many sides shapes.
The large Ger style buildings, mainly temples were erected on some basis with pedestals. The outside walls consist of wooden framework. Between pedestal and wall there is another row of poles in circumference a bit higher than previous ones. 4 central columns are leaned on the square frame and fortified each other with cross beams located right under the roof itself. Later upper outlet is placed and erection takes shape of truncated one. In early times the Ger consisted of spoke and frames, in summer it was covered with light materials and in winter –with felts.
Besides that one more shed tier of marquee form was erected on Ger and cone shaped smooth grounds in roof. The shed was a bit smaller in size than the base, and it brought diversity into the form of religious construction. Religious constructions of the stationary type used heavy building materials and demanded new architectural solutions. The Chinese classical architecture exactly Don-Gun art of having complicated roof with console construction also exerted influence on it.
History of Ger
Gers have been a distinctive feature of life in Central Asia for at least three thousand years. The first written description of a Ger used as a dwelling was recorded by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who lived in Greece between 484 and 424 BC. Herodotus, who is regarded as the father of history, was the first person in the world to record an accurate account of the past. He described Ger-like tents as the dwelling place of the Scythians, a horse riding-nomadic nation who lived in the northern Black Sea and Central Asian region from around 600 BC to AD 300. Thus, the Ger was described in the first historical document in the world.
Gers have been continually in use since this time as habitation for the Mongolian nomadic peoples of the Central Asian Plateau. Archeological evidence proves that the first empire of steppe warriors in Central Asia, the Huns, who were active from the 4th to the 6th century AD, used yurts as their principal dwellings.
The oldest complete Ger yet discovered was in a 13th century grave in the Khentei Mountains of Mongolia. Bronze age rock etchings from Siberia appear to show Gers in use. Descriptions from ancient travellers and some frozen remains offer hints, but no absolute proof of Ger use. Herodotus (c480-c425 BC) described ger-carts and felt tents being used by the Scythian people. A cart found in a 2500 year old Pazaryck grave in Southern Siberia demonstrate all of the technologies needed to build a Ger were available at that time
The evolution of the modern Ger almost certainly began in prehistoric times with the urts or buheg; a tipi like structure, still used by the reindeer breeders of Northern Mongolia and Siberia .
1. Buheg 2. Simple walls 3. Tall yurt 4. Low yurt with raised tono 5. Modern Ger