Oct 14, 2012

The History of Public Bathing with Mr Steam & BlogTour London

As many of you know, I spent many years living in Portugal - a country deeply steeped with the rituals of baths, especially with the fine thermal waters running throughout the country, and many spas of today still take advantage of these areas to establish specialized treatments and care centers based on the unique qualities of these waters.

In Lisbon, part of the local tradition for the locals weekly baths would create scandalous rippling of gossip across the city as the people descended the steps of the Praça do Comércio to bathe nude in the river.

Széchenyi Baths in Budapest,

Not only true of Portugal, but throughout Europe, the natural thermal springs such as in Bath were first discovered by Prince Bladud around 863BC, who was cured from his skin disease after bathing in the waters.

The Spa of Trenčianske Teplice in Slovakia, is one of the most visited and the oldest spas there, from 1397 with spring water at 37-40°C (98-104F) and with a chemical composition of sulphur-calcium-magnesium-thermal-hypotonic mineral waters, also known to cure many ailments and diseases.

While the Széchenyi Baths in Budapest, is the largest medicinal coeed bath and one of the largest public baths in Europe still today.

In Portugal, many of the older public baths based on the thermal natural waters, are now being rehabilitated and remodeled, such as the recent $20 Million investment renovation of the very well known group, Banyan Tree, and the Estoril Wellness Center in my very own "home" town..

1/ Thermal Water of Geres 2/ Hospital Thermal Bath (Caldas da Rainha)
3-4/ The new Thermal Banyan Tree Wellness Center - Estoril

But the use of public baths was not only common place in Europe and Russia,oh no...
In New York City the Asser Levy Public Baths from 1908 as reproduced here, were not only an area for cleaning but for leisure.
Asser Levy Public Baths (E 23rd St)  - 1908
Click here for a Simon Fieldhouse gallery.

Heating water of course was a challenge before contemporary plumbing was available, and although most hot springs are often found in volcanic areas made it possible to enjoy the pleasure of soaking, while steam rooms or saunas became possible by heating where in areas such as Portugal they used red-hot stones to make steam baths.

Russian Venus by Boris Kustodiev

Throughout history, and across the globe, many cultures and civilizations such as the "Banya" (a steam bath with a stove) in Russia, . Nowadays any type of bath or sauna is usually called banya in Russia and other former USSR countries.

The word banya is of Greek origin - “cleansing of a body with the help of steam.”, but some linguists believe the word takes roots from the Latin balneum — “something that makes pain and sadness go away.”

However similar they were in theory, the layout & overall designs of banya and/or hamam and Roman bath are different. In a classical hamam, there is a chimney which runs under the floor and heats the room & in the shape of an octagon with consists of three basic, interconnected rooms: the caldarium - hot room; the warm room (tepidarium), which is the intermediate room; and the cool room (frigidarium). 

Artists have used this ambiance for many backdrop to their art, being able to conjure up so many emotions and symbolic simply by setting the scene within one of these bath houses... 

exotic, sensual, primal, vulnerability, friendship and social interaction, luxury and exuberance. 

traditional hamam - painting via

The power of the location and what it stands for, and how we ourselves have somehow come across one of these situations ourselves is so evident simply by juxtaposing these two artistic expressions against one another.

Patrick Dallard & Santo Magonza @ Ice Hotel "Somewhere between dream and reality, ‘Hammam’ contrasts the cold, dry elements of the Arctic with the warmth and comfort of an early Arabic bathhouse"

Yet, today not much has really changed, as Michael Boodro Editor in Chief of Elle Decor Magazine  pointed out at a conference at the D&D Building I attended a few days ago (more on that later), the true definition of luxury for any one individual is unequivocally to have their own private "Spa" within their own home.

This overwhelming response defining clearly what they consider to be the defining element of "True Luxury" as shown with over 70% responding, in a poll of many interior designers & architects.

The Palms, The Drift Spa & Hamam - Las Vegas
So until you are able to recreate these types of spaces for yourself at home,

The Standard Hotel - Hamam, Miami Beach

So, why not indulge!?
Why not create a little luxury for yourselves at home? Don't forget the enormous health applications that a great Steam Room can provide for you ... as it serves to draw out toxins and soothes the skin...

The team from Mr Steam, while visiting their site, within a few clicks you can get an idea of what is possible to create within your own personal space by simply filling out their easy "size and selection form" and, voila!, they will help you build the home spa of your dreams and this could be you!

and if that is too much, then give them a call or write them an email 
Customer Service Hotline at 1-800-76-STEAM (East Coast)
 or 1-800-72-STEAM (West Coast) or email hello@mrsteam.com at any time.

A little more reading on the history of steam bathing ->

via Steam Therapy. 

From Rome, to Japan; Turkey and Morocco to Russia; the Spanish Spas and Native American Sweat Lodge; and finally Mexico's traditional sweat bath.

Make sure to visit the Steam Therapy site, and Mr Steam for much more inspiration and information on all the products available to renovate your home today and create your own private steam spa.

Thanks again to all the sponsors, and Modenus for this amazing journey.

Tomorrow's post, I will continue on the theme of bathing, but perhaps making it a little more private!


  1. Hi Jennifer

    Great post. I’ve spent an afternoon at the Széchenyi Baths in Budapest and it was an unforgettable, almost dream-like, experience. I also used to talk business in the somewhat less glamorous Iron Monger Row public Turkish Baths in London – mostly frequented by London cab drivers.

    And yes, a space with the same feel, at home, would be luxury indeed.

    1. Thanks Tim!
      I haven't been to that one, but I have been to a few in Portugal and Baden Baden which is an older one in Germany...
      Probably not a great idea to do that when you are very young and on a romantic holiday :-) , and I am sure would appreciate it much more now, but now.. who has the time!

  2. Great post Jennifer and so informative. I didn't know all of the history of the steam bath. I know most of my clients love to have a steam shower. I couldn't agree more that people are wanting to create a spa-like experience in their own home. Thanks for sharing!



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