Wordtravels

Wordtravels

Banyas, or bath houses, are a tradition in Russia with some of the oldest and most beautiful examples to be found in Moscow. Banyas originally existed because most homes didn't have bathrooms, and while the point of going there was to wash the experience gradually evolved into more of an enjoyable, drawn-out social occasion, resulting in some truly opulent and indulgent bath house buildings. Everyone now has their own bathrooms, but there are still bath houses available for recreational purposes.

Banya rituals involve stripping down and spending as much time as you can bear in a blisteringly hot steam room, followed by a plunge into an icy pool. This process is repeated several times, after which each attendee is beaten with thin, whip-like birch branches, said to increase blood-flow to the skin's surface. Throughout a visit to the banya, snacking and drinking is encouraged, especially if the drinking takes the form of toasts made with shots of vodka.

The Sandunovsky Banya in Moscow, close to the Kuznetsky Most metro station, is arguably the most famous and most opulent of them all. It is also the oldest surviving banya, built in 1808. The building is reminiscent of a palace, filled as it is with frescoes, statues, marble, gold, and high ceilings. The banya is still open for use every day except Tuesdays and is well worth a visit, both for the interior and for the cultural experience.