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The History of Bathing and Bath Houses

Updated on April 26, 2012
Tbilissi, Orbeliani Bathhouse
Tbilissi, Orbeliani Bathhouse | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB. The Frigidarium (cold-plunge bath) at the Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB. The Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB. Roman drain at Bath
The Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB.
The Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB. | Source
The Frigidarium (cold-plunge bath) at the Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB.
The Frigidarium (cold-plunge bath) at the Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB. | Source
The Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB.
The Great Bath in Bathwick, Bath, England, GB. | Source
Roman drain at Bath
Roman drain at Bath | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Moorish Bathhouse: Hidden in Granada's old city center. It is actually free to access this archeological site, if you're a citizen of the European Union. Alhambra: bath house, ceiling: Star openings in the ceiling and upper wall.Alhambra: Bath house interior: Ray of light inside the bath house.Alhambra: bath house, musician's gallery: In this tower, blind musicians would play for the entertainment of the bathers below.
Moorish Bathhouse: Hidden in Granada's old city center. It is actually free to access this archeological site, if you're a citizen of the European Union.
Moorish Bathhouse: Hidden in Granada's old city center. It is actually free to access this archeological site, if you're a citizen of the European Union. | Source
Alhambra: bath house, ceiling: Star openings in the ceiling and upper wall.
Alhambra: bath house, ceiling: Star openings in the ceiling and upper wall. | Source
Alhambra: Bath house interior: Ray of light inside the bath house.
Alhambra: Bath house interior: Ray of light inside the bath house. | Source
Alhambra: bath house, musician's gallery: In this tower, blind musicians would play for the entertainment of the bathers below.
Alhambra: bath house, musician's gallery: In this tower, blind musicians would play for the entertainment of the bathers below. | Source

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.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Wallpainting Of Boxers From The Bathhouse: Wallpainting of boxers from the bathhouse (St-Romain-en-Gal, Provence, France)Byzantine Bath House PoolByzantine Bathhouse WalkwayBathhouse Pipes: Bathhouse reconstruction to demonstrate how room was heated. Byzantine Bathhouse Sub-floor: Hot air would circulate beneath the floor keeping it warm. Bet She'an Bathhouse Tiles
Wallpainting Of Boxers From The Bathhouse: Wallpainting of boxers from the bathhouse (St-Romain-en-Gal, Provence, France)
Wallpainting Of Boxers From The Bathhouse: Wallpainting of boxers from the bathhouse (St-Romain-en-Gal, Provence, France) | Source
Byzantine Bath House Pool
Byzantine Bath House Pool | Source
Byzantine Bathhouse Walkway
Byzantine Bathhouse Walkway | Source
Bathhouse Pipes: Bathhouse reconstruction to demonstrate how room was heated.
Bathhouse Pipes: Bathhouse reconstruction to demonstrate how room was heated. | Source
Byzantine Bathhouse Sub-floor: Hot air would circulate beneath the floor keeping it warm.
Byzantine Bathhouse Sub-floor: Hot air would circulate beneath the floor keeping it warm. | Source
Bet She'an Bathhouse Tiles
Bet She'an Bathhouse Tiles | Source
Verbiage From Signs at Bet She'an Bathhouse
Verbiage From Signs at Bet She'an Bathhouse

Turkish Bathhouses

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.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Japanese BathHyotan Onsen outdoor bathHakone Suisho-en, JapanBathing in the Old WaysMens Bath - Kappa Tengoku Notemburo - Hakone-Yumato
Japanese Bath
Japanese Bath | Source
Hyotan Onsen outdoor bath
Hyotan Onsen outdoor bath | Source
Hakone Suisho-en, Japan
Hakone Suisho-en, Japan | Source
Bathing in the Old Ways
Bathing in the Old Ways | Source
Mens Bath - Kappa Tengoku Notemburo - Hakone-Yumato
Mens Bath - Kappa Tengoku Notemburo - Hakone-Yumato | Source

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.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
What remains of a Roman BathhouseBathhouse in Bergama TurkeyBathhouse - These star cut-outs are on several bathhouse pictures.The communal pool in this Roman Bathhouse rests under vaulted arches.Remains of Bathhouse in SyriaMosaic floor in the bathhouse in a palace at Masada.
What remains of a Roman Bathhouse
What remains of a Roman Bathhouse | Source
Bathhouse in Bergama Turkey
Bathhouse in Bergama Turkey | Source
Bathhouse - These star cut-outs are on several bathhouse pictures.
Bathhouse - These star cut-outs are on several bathhouse pictures. | Source
The communal pool in this Roman Bathhouse rests under vaulted arches.
The communal pool in this Roman Bathhouse rests under vaulted arches. | Source
Remains of Bathhouse in Syria
Remains of Bathhouse in Syria | Source
Mosaic floor in the bathhouse in a palace at Masada.
Mosaic floor in the bathhouse in a palace at Masada. | Source

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.


All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2011 Cindy Murdoch (homesteadbound)


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Comments: "The History of Bathing and Bathhouses"

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    • homesteadbound profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Millionaire Tips - I think it would be interesting to see some of the ancient ones and admire the architecture and artwork (frescos). Thanks so much!

    • homesteadbound profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      FGual - Water does provide us with many beneficial uses, and it is enjoyable to touch, see and hear. Thanks!

    • homesteadbound profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      thumbi7 - Yes the bathhouses are very beautiful. Although I am not keen on public bathing, I think the beauty of the structures and the peacefulness of the water could be quite relaxing. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • homesteadbound profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Trsmd - I am glad that I could share the history of bath houses with you. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Great history of bathing! I've been to Bath too, but didn't go tot he bath house. We did see bathhouses when we went to Pompeii last summer. I have a friend in Japan whose husband really likes to go to bath houses - I think they go about once a month or maybe more often.

    • FGual profile image

      FGual 

      6 years ago from USA

      Quite interesting hub. Great that the 1800s brought a bathing renewal. The steam room and saunas at fitness centers today are the equivalent of the historic bath houses. Water is enjoyable and good for you, that will never change.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Wow! beautiful pictures!

      I really enjoyed the hub.

      So much of information and history on the one activity we do everyday

      Just wonderful!

      Thanks for SHARING:)

    • Trsmd profile image

      Trsmd 

      6 years ago from India

      Homestead bound, never thought the background and history of bathing, even though we are taking bath daily, never thought how and who initiated the idea of taking bath. Thanks for posting different ideas and sharing:)

    • homesteadbound profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Arlene V. Poma - I'm pleased that you enjoyed the history of bathing and bathhouses. Too bad the one that you would have been able to visit is closed.

      I can go for that Calgon feeling myself.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • homesteadbound profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Beth Pipe - I'm glad that you enjoyed this hub. I bet the baths are not far from you are they?

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      6 years ago

      Fantastic history lesson on something as simple as bathing. Unfortunately, the historic bathhouse along the Sacramento River is no more, but what a sight it must have been in its day. Voted up for the "Calgon, Take Me Away" feeling!

    • Beth Pipe profile image

      Beth Pipe 

      6 years ago from Cumbria, UK

      Love it! What a fascinating history. I've been to the city of Bath but not visited the bath houses. What wonderful buildings too.

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