30 Traditional Homes Around The World You Need To See
10. UROS TITIMARKA, PERU, SOUTH AMERICA
The Uros Islands float in Lake Titicaca — the world’s highest lake towering 3,818 meters above sea level. There are about 87 islands in this region, but this one, named “Uros Titimarka” belongs to multi-generational local, José P. Suaña Ticona, and six other families. “The lake is like an eye here in Peru. We invest in the lake since we are part of it…it’s like our sanctuary,” he says.
Five hundred years ago, the lake we know today wasn’t a lake at all, it was simply dry, elevated land. Now the waters which translate to mean “Lake Puma Stone” are the primary resource for food, fauna, wildlife and commerce for the Uru people.
They’ve been living on the lake for hundreds of years, originally forced to take up residence on the floating islands as a defensive mechanism — the mobility offered them the freedom to move if a threat arose. Today they live here to keep the culture of their ancestors alive. “Who wouldn’t like to live here? We have everything, the nature is clean, the air is clean, everything is clean,” José adds.
Reeds are aquatic plants that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca, but they’re also the backbone of the Uru way of life. Reeds act as the infrastructure and interiors of the homes and boats, provide nutritional nourishment and protection from the elements, and they even make up the very ground the artificial islets float upon.
These tall grass-like plants are dried then woven together in stacks, anchored with ropes and attached to sticks that are driven into the base of the lake. The reeds at the bottom of the stack are underwater and disintegrate fairly quickly, so new ones must be added in a criss-cross formation to the top on a consistent basis. This task can be rather daunting, as every human step on the island sinks the reeds beneath their feet anywhere from 2 to 4 inches.
Many who have visited agree that walking on these floating islands feels a lot like walking on a giant sponge. This particular island receives the most foot traffic from tourists, creating a continuous cycle of work and economic stimulus for the families here.
Because of the humidity on the lake, homes must be built about 50 centimeters higher than the surrounding grounds to prevent them from sinking too far into the reeds over time. These homes, called “chuclla” in the native tongue, used to be more like large rafts that were tied together and set out about 9 miles into the lake. But a storm in 1986 devastated the area and forced locals to set up shop closer to shore near Puno, the largest port town in the area. This proximity brings all the challenges and opportunities involved in navigating the waters of tradition versus modernity.
The Uru people are said to have “black blood” because they do not feel the cold. José confirms further that the word “uru” means “strong men of the lake and sons of the sun.” Although his grandparents spoke Uru, this language has since been replaced by Aimara. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the islands came into contact with the modern world, but today, they’ve integrated with tourists from all over, rely on solar power for electricity and even have a local radio station that plays tunes throughout the day.
11. MARAS TOWN, PERU, SOUTH AMERICA
About 25 miles from Peru’s famous Machu Picchu ruins is the small Urubamba Valley town of Maras. The town is well-known for the thousands of terraced salt pans to the north that date to the Incan Empire. Here in this tiny rural community, Angel Arias, member of the Quechua people, an indigenous community in South America, lives with only one close neighbor.
His humble adobe structure, which has been home to at least three generations of his family, sits next to a small chapel and below a cliff.
Angel’s house is mainly constructed from red adobe bricks made from local earth. The bricks form thick walls that provide natural insulation from extreme temperatures. The roof is a wooden lattice partly supported by a large log in the center of one room. The floor is hard-packed mud.
The closest market is in the town of Urubamba, which Arias visits twice a week. Given the remoteness of the area, most materials are reused or repurposed as much as possible. Plastic shopping bags are kept until they wear out. A rusted metal sheet serves as a gate for the fenced-in area where Arias keeps his cattle, ducks and chickens.
Large double doors separate the outer farmyard from Angel’s enclosed patio. From there, a wooden door leads into the house. The front room is a kitchen and living area, with smoke-blackened pots and pans hanging from the walls, a brick oven and a pink propane-fired stove.
Old leaves hang from the ceiling, remnants from drying corn, the main ingredient in most meals and the key to making their artisanal beer, “chicha,” which is a traditional drink that dates from before the Incan Empire. He stores this valuable food in several built-in brick corn cribs in his bedroom, the house’s only other room. His home is as simple as his lifestyle. “Life is calm,” he says. “I like everything about it.”
12. SANIKILUAQ, CANADA
It might come as a surprise that this seemingly harsh and inhospitable environment houses nearly 900 Inuit people who have lived on and loved these lands for thousands of years. Although the locals no longer inhabit igloos, this one was built to show new generations how the people of the Belcher Islands used to live.
In years past igloos were constructed in the fall months. However, the changing climate has required waiting until winter before the right conditions to emerge to build to start constructing the the igloo.
Lifetime Sanikiluaq local Lisi Kavik spent the first year of her life in 1961 with her family in an igloo and is passionate about teaching elementary-aged children the real stories and cultural traditions held by the Inuit people.
Step inside as Lisi shares wisdom from her own experiences and those passed down from the community’s elders.
Igloos are literally built from the ground up. Although the shape may seem simple, constructing one is not for the faint of heart. It calls for an impressive mashup of applied mathematics, physical strength, mental stamina and an intimate understanding of the land on which it stands.
It all starts with finding the ideal location: a gentle slope on solid ground where wind-blown “pack snow” has collected in spades. The domed shape is created one block at a time in a spiral formation, and insulated with two layers of snow to keep its inhabitants sheltered from unruly winds. When crafted correctly, the temperature inside the igloo can be anywhere from 40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is outside just from body heat alone. But while igloos would keep you warm(er), no amount of well-packed snow could prevent the occasional bear from intruding through the walls, Lisi points out.
If you’ve ever heard the saying “heat rises” you’ll understand why the Inuit people built elevated snow platforms covered in animal skins and furs for sleeping. These blocks were usually positioned towards the door because of a belief that the head should face the entrance of the home. A small flame from a seal oil lamp was kept lit on the “qulliq” or stone platform in the center of the home to sustain a reasonable amount of warmth throughout frigid nights. A hole in the top of the igloo served as a vent for any smoke. This allowed the walls to melt just enough to re-freeze the outer layer and create an even sturdier reinforcement. And so went the cycle of everyday human activity as a means of regenerating the very foundation of that which sheltered them.
While this community has always relied heavily on Eider duck feathers as nature’s answer to surviving Arctic winters, their diets mainly consist of seal meat, and depending on the area (and hunter’s luck) elk, caribou and polar bears might make an appearance on the menu.
13. Cieneguilla Village, Oaxaca, Mexico
The southern part of the Mexican state of Oaxaca is largely farm country. It’s home to many indigenous Chatino people, like 51-year-old Santiago Cruz Salvador, a farmer who lives in the rural village of Cieneguilla.
While many Chatinos have migrated to the United States, Santiago is well known in the community. He has made his home with adobe because he thinks is more durable and more and aesthetically pleasing than the cement homes, but many people didn’t believe him.
In the 1980’s there was an earthquake. Many houses from Cieneguilla were damaged, and many of them collapsed, but Santiago’s home remained intact. He places a high value on the tools of his trade, which he stores in the home he built in the late 1970s. “I made the house,” he says proudly. “I made the adobe. I did everything with my own hands.”
Most of the buildings in Cieneguilla are made from materials from the surrounding region. The brick walls are stone, lime and earth. The floor is made of compacted earth and cement. The roof is wood and tile. Santiago says the structure is partly supported by old castle armaments.
But he and workers like him usually don’t spend much time at home. “If you go to the field, you’ll have your coffee at five or six in the morning, and you’ll be gone,” he says. Men return from the cornfields around 4 p.m. to have lunch with their families. After that they congregate in the center of the village to socialize and watch basketball. The children of the village usually join in and play until everyone returns home to have coffee and go to bed. Family time happens mainly on Sunday, when everyone goes to a temple in the village, and at certain communal meals.
Most meals are eaten in the kitchen, where they’re prepared by the women of the household. Food like corn and beans are typically stored in sacks outside, because they attract insects. For holidays and other big events, food is prepared outside and visitors sleep in a separate two-story wooden house on the grounds.
Santiago’s chores around the house include stocking firewood, making trenches when there’s rain, baking and helping with the children. For their part, the kids sweep the yard, gather wood for cooking, take care of their younger siblings, help their parents in the cornfield, take care of their chickens and attend school. It’s an investment in their future. One day, this home will be theirs.
14. IGALIKU, GREENLAND
It goes without saying that this corner of Greenland really lives up to its name. With a population of about 57,000, the largest island in the world is also the least densely populated. The small town of Igaliku houses 30 people and is certainly no exception.
One resident, Malene Egede, has called this place home since 1984, baring witness to how the climate has evolved over time. “We used to drive cars on the ice to reach nearby cities and it used to be so cold in the winter that the ice was thick and thus, less dangerous,” she recalls, “But this year it didn’t get cold enough to freeze, so we sailed in our boats instead. We can all feel the weather is changing.”
Malene invites us into her home, or “angerlasimaffik” in Greenlandic, for more.
This house was built in 1955 by Malene’s in-laws, who raised her husband from birth within its sturdy wooden walls. Because his sheep were already settled here, Malene and her husband decided this was where they’d start a family of their own. The pup that slipped into view, Qooqa, is a sweet new addition who earns his room and board by helping herd the sheep every morning.
What this small town lacks in number of people, it more than makes up for in sheep — it is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 animals roam the land amongst five different farms. (Malene’s family can account for 620 of them.) They live in the barns from November until May, and after the sheep birth their lambs, the farmers send them to the mountains for summer.
The completion of the sheep gathering is cause for a big celebration around here. The annual Igaliku Party draws the descendents and ancestors of the man who first moved to Igaliku in 1783 and about 500 others from neighboring towns. The community comes together in large tents to eat, sing, play music and dance.
Three small bedrooms, a living room, dining room, entry room, kitchen and bathroom make up the interiors of this house or “illoq” in Greenlandic. It’s filled with homey treasures, but Malene’s most prized possessions are her books — she has so many that she has to store them in the farm’s nearby cottages.
During the summer months, the beauty of Greenland attracts all sorts of guests that she and her husband host. But one special visit stands out as the the most exciting things that’s ever happened in their home. In 2000, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and her husband came to visit Igaliku, and because Malene’s house had the most modern conveniences, they were asked to host the royal pair along with the Minister of Iceland and the head of the Greenland government.