A sauna is a small room or house designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions, or an establishment with one or more of these and auxiliary facilities. These facilities derive from the Finnish sauna. A sauna session can be a social affair in which the participants disrobe and sit or recline in temperatures of over 80 °C (176 °F). This induces relaxation and promotes sweating.
History of sauna
The oldest known saunas were pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was thrown over the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. This would raise the temperature so high that people could take off their clothes.
Eventually the sauna evolved to use a metal woodstove, or kiuas , with a chimney. Air temperatures averaged around 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit (70-80 °C) but sometimes exceeded 200 °F (90 °C) in a traditional Finnish sauna. Steam vapor, also called, was created by splashing water on the heated rocks.
When the Finns migrated to other areas of the globe they brought their sauna designs and traditions with them, introducing other cultures to the enjoyment and health benefits of sauna. This led to further evolution of the sauna, including the electric sauna stove, which was introduced in the 1950s and far infrared saunas, which have become popular in the last several decades.
The modern sauna
Many North American and Western European college/university physical education complexes and many public sports centers and gyms include sauna facilities. They may also be present at public and private swimming pools. This may be a separate area where swimming wear may be taken off or a smaller facility in the swimming pool area where one should keep the swimming wear on.
Good manners require that the door to a sauna not be kept open so long that it cools the sauna for those that are already in it. Leaving the door even slightly ajar or keeping it open for more than a few seconds will significantly cool down the relatively small amount of hot air inside the sauna.
Infrared saunas are growing in popularity, using far infrared rays emitted by infrared heaters to create warmth.
Saunas can be dangerous. Heat prostration or the even more serious hyperthermia (heat stroke) can result. A cool shower or plunge afterwards always results in a great increase in blood pressure, so careful moderation is advised for those with a history of stroke or hypertension (high blood pressure). A good practice is to take a few moments after exiting a sauna before entering a cold plunge, and to enter a cold plunge by stepping into it gradually, rather than immediately immersing fully.
The hammam or Turkish bath is the Middle Eastern variant of a steam bath, which can be categorized as a wet relative of the sauna. They had played an important role in cultures of the Middle-East, serving as places of social gathering, ritual cleansing and as architectural structures, institutions, and (later) elements with special customs attached to them. Europeans learned about the Hammam via contacts with Turkey hence the European name for it: "Turkish" hammam.
In Western Europe, the Turkish bath as a method of cleansing the body and relaxation was particularly popular during the Victorian era. The process involved in taking a Turkish bath is similar to that of a sauna, but is more closely related to the bathing practices of the Romans.
Taking a Turkish bath firstly involves relaxing in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot dry air allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an ever hotter room (known as the hot room) before splashing themselves with cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.
In Turkey, the advent of modern plumbing systems, showers, and bathtubs in homes caused the importance of hammams to fade in recent times.
Turkish Baths (Hammams)
The hammam combines the functionality and the structural elements of its predecessors in Anatolia, the Roman thermae and Byzantine baths, with the Central Asian Turkish tradition of steam bathing, ritual cleansing and respect of water. It is also known that Arabs have built many of their own version of the Greek-Roman baths they encountered following their conquests of Alexandria. However, the Turkish hammam has a more improved style and functionality from these structures that emerged as annex buildings of mosques or as re-use of the remaining Roman baths.
The hammams in the Ottoman culture started out as structural elements serving as annexes to mosques, however quickly evolved into institutions and eventually with the works of the Ottoman architect Sinan, into monumental structural complexes, the finest example being the Çemberlitaş Hammam in Istanbul, built in 1584.
A typical hammam consists of three interconnected basic rooms similar to its Roman ancestors: 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.
The sıcaklık usually has a large dome decorated with small glass windows that create a half-light; it also contains a large marble stone at the center that the customers lie on, and niches with fountains in the corners. This room is for soaking up steam and getting scrub massages. The warm room is used for washing up with soap and water and the soğukluk is to relax, dress up, have a refreshing drink, sometimes tea, and where available, nap in private cubicles after the massage. A few of the hammams in Istanbul also contain mikvehs, ritual cleansing baths for Jewish women.
The hammam, like its early precursors, Roman (at least pre-Christian) thermae, is not exclusive to men only - hammam complexes usually contain separate quarters for men and women. Being social centers, in the Ottoman Empire, hammams were quite abundant, and were built in almost every Ottoman city. Integrated in daily life, they were centers of social gatherings, populated on almost every occasion with traditional entertainment (e.g. dancing and food, especially in the women's quarters) and ceremonies, such as before weddings, high-holidays, celebrating newborns, beauty trips etc.
There existed some special accessories of which some still are being used at modern hammams: such as the peştemal (a special cloth of silk and/or cotton, to cover the body, like pareos), nalın (special wooden clogs that would prevent the wearer from slipping on the wet floor, often decorated with silver or mother-of-pearl), kese (a rough mitt for massage), and sometimes jewel boxes, gilded soap boxes, mirrors, henna bowls, perfume bottles and such.
Traditionally, the masseurs in the baths, tellak in Turkish, who were young boys, helped wash clients by soaping and scrubbing their bodies. They also worked as sex workers. We know today, by texts left by Ottoman authors, who they were, their prices, how many times they could bring their customers to orgasm, and the details of their sexual practices. (From the Dellâkname-i Dilküşâ, eighteenth century work by Dervish, Ismail Agha; Ottoman archives, Suleymaniye, Istanbul) They were recruited from among the ranks of the non-Muslim subject nations of the Turkish empire, such as Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Albanians, Bulgarians, Lebanese, Roma and others.
At times the relationship between a tellak and his client became intensely personal. It is recorded that in the mid-18th century, a janissary — an elite soldier in the Ottoman army, also often of European descent — had a tellak for a lover.
After the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman empire, in the quickly westernizing Turkish republic the tellak boys lost their sexual aspect, and now the tellak's role is filled by adult attendants who specialize in more prosaic forms of scrubbing and massage. Yet in Turkish the term hamam oğlanı 'bath boy' is still used as a euphemism for a homosexual.
Public baths today
Public baths are common in many countries, such as Japan, Korea, and Germany. In modern Russia, much political and economic business is conducted in men’s-only steam baths. Public baths are popular in hotels or resorts and retreats. Services such as back scrubbing, steam rooms, saunas, and pools of various temperatures are common.
Ancient Greek and Rome
In The Book of the Bath, Françoise de Bonneville wrote, "The history of public baths begins in Greece in the sixth century B.C.," where men and women washed in basins near places of exercise, physical and intellectual. Later gymnasia had indoor basins set overhead, the open maws of marble lions offering showers, and circular pools with tiers of steps for lounging.
Bathing was ritualized, becoming an art -- of cleansing sands, hot water, hot air in dark vaulted "vapor baths," a cooling plunge, a rubdown with aromatic oils. Cities all over Ancient Greece honored sites where "young ephebes stood and splashed water over their bodies."
Romans adopted this Greek model of "warmth and conviviality," albeit with their usual excess. The first public thermae of 19 BC had a rotunda 25 meters across, circled by small rooms, set in a park with artificial river and pool. By 300 AD the Baths of Diocletian would cover 1.5 million square feet (140,000 m²), its soaring granite and porphry sheltering 3,000 bathers a day.
Roman baths became "something like a cross between an aquacentre and a theme park," with pools, game rooms, gardens, even libraries and theatres. One of the most famous public bath sites is Aquae Sulis in Bath, England. It is no longer in use, but when it was, its waters were believed to cure diseases.
The largest baths in Rome were the Baths of Caracalla built by the emperor Caracalla (211-217), where men and women had mixed freely. Laws were soon brought to suppress "licentiousness" (mixed and otherwise). Few worked. In 320 AD women were barred from the thermae. At the end of that century St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, banned baths altogether.
The Ottoman Empire
During the Ottoman Empire, public baths, inherited from Byzantium, were widely used. The baths had both a religious and popular origin deriving from the Qur'an (ablution ritual) and the use of steamrooms by the Turks.
In medieval Europe, the Roman custom of public bathing was maintained in some form through bath houses. These became vital community centers, important for gossip and business. Bath houses were known as 'stews', a word that then remained associated with all brothels, even those not in baths.