there’s no place like home

changing gears for a sec (kinda): peoples who inbreed regularly build different types of houses than people who do not (or maybe that should be the other way around). particularly — or maybe mostly — those that live in urban areas.

if you’re a bedouin and your whole clan lives in tents and travels together and marries one another, the following prolly doesn’t apply since you don’t normally encounter other, unrelated people on a daily basis, so there’s no need to wall yourself in. however, if you and your clan are inbreeders and you live in a place where you’re likely to encounter unrelated people quite often, your response will prolly be to build…

…a courtyard house:

“A courtyard house is a type of house — often a large house — where the main part of the building is disposed around a central courtyard. The main rooms of a courtyard houses often open onto the courtyard, and the exterior walls may be windowless and/or semi-fortified and/or surrounded by a moat…. Courtyard houses consisting of multiple separate residences have been built in many regions and eras, including the earliest Chinese dynasties and the Inca period…. In Ancient Roman architecture courtyard houses were built around an atrium. Courtyard houses are also common in Islamic architecture. Courtyard houses are also a form of dwelling built in the British Isles late in the Iron Age.”

lots o’ inbreeders on that list.

the point of the courtyard house — well, there are many reasons to build a courtyard house, but the main point anyway — is to keep out unrelated folks. you don’t even want them looking in to your domain in any way. no front yard. no backyard — definitely not one that is barely separated from your neighbor’s backyard! — your neighbor with whom you share hardly any genetic ties whatsoever! and, like the wikipedia description says, maybe not even any outside windows. if you’ve ever been to the greek isles, you know what they’re talking about. in islamic countries, part of the point of the courtyard house is so that women may observe purdah.

here’s a model of a chinese siheyuan (courtyard house):

and here’s the sort of thing that will greet you in the front (this is from a rather wealthy home, according to wikipedia):

a wall with a door in it. it’s a very nice looking wall with a door in it, but it’s still a wall with a door in it.

here’s a machiya house in japan (kyoto) — the front as passersby would encounter it:

and the family’s courtyard:

here’s the front entranceway to a courtyard house in india:

interior of traditional courtyard house in iran (it was under renovation, apparently):

traditional courtyard home in turkey:

and one in morocco (this one’s a vacation rental, so next time you’re in marrakesh…!):

these are all really different from, say, a typical swiss village where all the houses have large windows — and barely any boundaries separating them from neighboring houses at all!:

courtyard houses are also very different from traditional houses found in english villages which typically are oriented toward a common village green:

and they’re very unlike these houses which, again, have large windows, are oriented out towards the street, and have no boudaries between the front lawns (there might be fences between the backyards — and maybe a particularly tall one or two depending on how the neighbors get along (~_^) ):

the ultimate in insular clan housing, tho, must be the hakka walled villages of southern china. entire clans — hundreds of families — could literally hole up in one of these! again, there’s a central courtyard with apartments around the perimeter for all the nuclear families that made up the clan — and not many windows facing outwards — maybe only a few high up:

the interior of one:

further reading (one of these days i might even read these myself!): Courtyard housing: past, present and future and Riyadh’s Vanishing Courtyard Houses. for more on the chinese siheyuan, see here.

update: see also damascus courtyard house

(note: comments do not require an email. hbd chick’s preferred house.)


  1. Fascinating.
    I wonder if courtyard houses are widespread in Latin culture. LA’s oldest house, Avila Adobe, is partly a courtyard, but I think also has a front veranda (IIRC). Maybe a bit of a hybrid between the N European and the Asiatic?


  2. @harmonious jim – well, the southern spaniards certainly do have a tradition of courtyard houses — down in andalusia. and i think some of their traditions did make it to the new world.

    i’ve actually been to avila adobe and i can’t remember exactly what it looks like either. (*hbd chick blushes*)

    but, who needs a memory when you’ve got the internet?! (when they turn it off, i’m gonna be in trouble.) wikipedia says avila adobe is an L-shaped building, so no — not a courtyard building. and there is a front veranda. (^_^)


  3. OT (sorry): A few hours ago this post appeared in my feed but when I clicked to open this actual page I got the “this blog has been suspended” page from wordpress. Just a momentary glitch?

    Keep up the good work!


  4. @polynices – yeah, a momentary glitch (that gave me a not-so-momentary headache!).

    wordpress disabled the blog ’cause it got picked up by their “automated anti-spam control,” whatever that is. but, after i sent a HEEEELLLLLLPPPPP email to them, the nice folks there checked into it and saw that my blog is not all spamy, so they disabled the disabling that they’d done to it.

    yay! (^_^)


  5. @g.w. – “This makes an almost spooky amount of sense.”

    freaky, huh? (^_^)

    anthropology is really cool — if the anthropologists would just start looking at it from a biological p.o.v. (i know some of them are, but more of them need to start doing it.)


  6. lots of courtyards in South America, monastaries often had courtyard houses. some now converted to hotels and shops. I think they were defensive structures and inbreeding may have been only a part of the design.


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