The History of Bathing and Bath Houses
History of Bathhouses
The healing properties of water have been understood since the beginning of time. Water is known to be essential to good health and can provide a comforting sense of peace.
Bathhouses have been in existence for almost 2000 years. The Romans and the Greeks are known to have erected many luxurious and extravagant bathhouses. These bathhouses were used for more than bathing; in fact, in these bathhouses, business was conducted and gossip was exchanged between friends. They were a place to eat, drink and arrange sexual encounters. Although bath houses were sometimes segregated between the sexes, many times they were mixed.
Some bath halls were so elaborate that they contained oratory halls, meditation or reflection rooms, art galleries, and prayer compartments. Some bathhouses also contained many separate smaller compartments for more “personal” business matters and entertainment.
Some of the more prominent bathhouses combined the healing arts with other activities which included recreation, revelry and fitness. It would be normal for a soldier to retreat to, and find comfort in, the bathhouses after a battle where his wounds would be well-tended often by the finest healers.
Most of the bathhouses were impressive and lavishly decorated. Many could accommodate up to 6,000 people at a time, in addition to their servants which accompanied them to provide the services of errand boy, chef and masseuse.
The Greeks and the Romans ascertained the benefits of bathing at approximately the same time, but they each had their own particular methodology for bathing experience. While the Romans bathed to maintain health, the Greeks felt that it was only necessary for the women to be fully immersed in the bathwater. The Greek’s felt that bathing was necessary before conducting business, after a hard day of work, or before taking part in a battle or philosophical debate or discussion.
The Greeks built many elaborate bathhouses for both sexes although their bathhouses never measured up to Roman standards. The Romans were thought to be the first to fully comprehend and utilize different colored plasters on the walls to address the different needs of various disorders or complaints.
In a Roman bath, many healers knowledgeable of gems, herbs, colors or oils would work with a client-bather at one time, and were often sought after and desired over the services of the local physicians.
Aside from the Romans and the Greeks, other cultures also desired the pleasures the bathhouses had to offer. The Turks created an extremely hot bath experience that is still known to this day as a Turkish steam bath. The Turkish bathhouses were lavish and artistically decorated with carpets or rugs, tapestries and columns plus ornate fixtures of gold, silver or brass.
Bathhouses and Disease
Bathhouses soon became suspect as being the cause for the spread of many water-borne diseases, plagues, and epidemics throughout Europe and England. Many of the early lead-based waterways were soon discovered to be a cause of toxicity and poisoning, causing sickness, impotence and sterility. Once the connection was made between disease and these conditions to the bathhouses, their popularity waned; and, they were soon closed.
The Japanese and Bathing
For many centuries, as well as recent times, the Japanese culture has been known for its obsession with cleanliness and its bathing rituals or customs. Bathing, important to Japanese culture, was communal in earlier times without division of the sexes; and sexual activity was as rampant as it had been in Roman bathhouses. It did not take long for laws to be passed separating the sexes, creating separate entrances and pools. Even today, bathing is still considered an indulgence in Japanese culture.
Muslims and Bathing
The Muslims also built bathhouses, often on the same streets at the mosques, where they could think, meditate or pray.
Bathhouses and Morality
Late in the 16th century, bathhouses fell out of popularity. The church was concerned over the amount of illegitimate children being born and about the amount of time being spent in bath houses rather than in church or providing for their families’ needs. The church, therefore, came against the bathhouses and the sins they seemed to encourage.
Grubbiness became the vogue. Refusing to bathe and dirt and grime represented spiritual purity and the turning away from the sensual and sexual aspects of the bath. It was also believed that dirt protected one from the illnesses and plagues that had earlier spread through the waters. Because of this attitude toward bathing, body odor was thought to be a huge turn on. Various cosmetics, perfumes, powders, wigs and layers of clothing were used to mask and hide the dirt and body odors.
Bathing is Back
When England was struck with sickness and plague in the early 1800’s, an investigation discovered that water was not the cause, but in fact part of the cure. England soon became a leader in the creation of bathroom technology.
Bathhouses gained popularity again, including baths using additions of Epsom, minerals and/or sulfur.
People all over the world now use water to clean, to socialize and to heal.
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Copyright © 2011 Cindy Murdoch (homesteadbound)