Wednesday, 28 January 2009
If you mention the word “bathing” nowadays, we tend to think of soaking in our bathtub, alone. We think of bathing as a way to cleanse our bodies and take some nice, quiet time for ourselves.
Imagine, instead of meeting friends for dinner, you meet them all at the local bathhouse. Yes, that’s right – you disrobe, step into a large pool of water filled with other people, and socialize. Sounds weird, right? Well, thousands of years ago, the Greeks and Romans built huge “bath emporiums” – fancy, public bathhouses that served as a meeting place for the elite. It was believed that by simply walking through the doors to enter the space, one could be healed. As many as 6,000 bathers would congregate here at once to relax, socialize, and even conduct important business meetings. Bathhouses were not open to the general public, however; they were often restrictive and allowed visitors in based upon gender, religion or class.
Some of these impressive bathhouses were so large, they contained art galleries, prayer rooms, and meditation areas. There were numerous smaller, private rooms for more intimate meetings. The bathhouses hosted live entertainment, festivals, dinners, and often housed gym facilities. Soldiers wounded in battle would often visit the bathhouses, which sometimes employed healers and doctors to tend to patients. As many as seven healers would tend to one lucky patient, and would offer various treatments including herbs, gemstones, and color therapy.
There were servants who would pamper the most elite visitors with massages, fancy meals and assistance with errands.
The Greeks and Romans each had a unique approach to bathing. The Greeks appreciated the hygienic benefits of bathing, and saw it as something one did before important meetings and after a hard day’s work. Their bathhouses, while beautiful and impressive, did not compare to the magnificence of the Roman baths. Roman bathhouses were grand structures with ornate details. They were the first to use colored plaster in the baths as a healing technique.
The Greeks and Romans weren’t alone in their love of bathing – the Turks are famous for their Turkish Baths, beautiful bathhouses with fixtures made of solid silver, gold, and brass, finely woven tapestries and carpeting, and impressive columns and pillars.
The Japanese, with their fixation on cleanliness and love of bathing, also enjoyed large, stately bathhouses. However, sexual promiscuity and public sexual relations became such an issue that laws were passed, separating the men and women with changes in architecture and layout – boys on one side, girls on the other. Public bathhouses are still immensely popular in Japan today.
Much later, in the mid 1800’s, England opened its first public bath, in Liverpool. 60 years later, most towns in England had at least one public bathhouse.
Stay tuned to find out more about the fall of public bathhouses, and how we got from soaking with drinks in our hands in large, palatial buildings to bathing in private bathrooms with the door closed behind us.