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Bathing History

Turkish The Turkish ‘hammam’ (bath) tradition incarnates respect of water and rites, which harness the elements for the cleansing and purification of the body. A hammam was intimately bound to everyday’s life, and frequently visited from men and woman at separate hours, for people of every rank and class, rich and poor, young and old. There had been over 300 public hammams in Istanbul in the 16th century. Like its Roman predecessor a typical hammam consists of three basic, interconnected rooms: the sıcaklık (or hararet -caldarium), which is the hot room; the warm room (tepidarium), which is the intermediate room; and the soğukluk, which is the cool room (frigidarium). The finest example of the Turkish hammam culture was the monumental Çemberlitaş Hamami, built 1584 in Instanbul.

Egyptian Evidence for Egyptian bathing culture reaches back to 2,000 B.C. where constructions used for bathing exist. In its earliest forms sizzling stones had been dunked into natural basins to heat up water for bathing.
Egyptians apparently knew the benefits of bathing ingredients such as milk and honey which with their lactic acid in milk and antiseptic properties of the honey were used for effective skin care and medicating purposes. It has been said that those ingredients, especially goat milk, had been Cleopatra’s secret for her beauty.

Japanese The origin of Japanese bathing is Misogi, ritual purification with water. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of natural geothermal hot springs, so called ‘onsen’ which traditionally were used as public free bathing places, where men and women bathed together. Since the Meiji period and the opening of Japan to the West, single-sex bathing became the usual conduct. Onsens were accessible for free and for everybody, regardless of the otherwise stricter hierarchy in Japanese historical society structure. Ever since onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content.

Finnish The Finnish bathing history centrally bases on hot steam saunas. Evidence indicates that the Finnish banyas were first wooden saunas in the 5th or 8th century. Early saunas were dug into a hill or embankment. Rocks were heated in a stone fireplace with a wood fire. The smoke from the fire filled the room and once the desired temperature was reached, the smoke was allowed to clear and the bathers entered. The wood smoke aroma was part of the cleansing ritual. This type of traditional smoke sauna was called a savusauna (black banya), which simply means “smoke sauna” in Finnish. Many people find the smell of smoke and wood particularly relaxing. Also known is the vasta (or vihta); ever since is a popular method, where small fresh birch branches with leaves on are tied together to swat the skin, which improves blood circulation, and its birch odor is considered pleasing. People of both sexes and families may bathe together naked, still saunas are not associated with sexuality and are considered an old tradition. Historically saunas have been the most sacred places after the church, and most houses which could afford to build a sauna had one. In older times women also used to give birth in the sauna because it was a warm and sterile environment. Ancient Finns believed saunas were inhabited by spirits.

Roman In ancient Rome, ‘thermae’ (hot) were facilities for bathing. Thermae usually refers to the large imperial bath complexes, while ‘balneae’ were smaller-scale facilities, public or private, that existed in great numbers throughout Rome. Most Roman cities had at least one, if not many, such buildings, where courting, business deals, relaxation and much more took place; the hygiene aspect was almost the added benefit. The thermae had different small and large basins and rooms, and were supplied with water from an adjacent river or stream, or by an aqueduct, which could be heated before being channeled into the basins. Rooms called the ‘caldarium’ were equipped with hot water pools and cold water fountains for the bathers to splash on their faces and necks to cool down. The other type of room was the ‘tepidarium’, where typically the walls and floors were heated, but which had no pools. The next type of room was the ‘frigidarium’ which was used to cool off from the heat of hot water bathing. It was common to go to the thermae daily, there were no charges and they were accessible to the nobles and the poor alike. The roman emperors Diocletian, Caracalla, Titus and Trajan each built famous and splendiferous thermae to impress and represent their great power.

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