Anthropology Museum of Qajar Bath

A glance at the ethos in Turkish baths of ancient Iran

Formerly, there were Turkish baths in every parts of Iran and people would go there for cleanliness at
least once a week. There were not any specific Turkish baths for men or women, therefor, men had to use
them before the sunrise to around 8:00 a. m and then they were used by women until noon or even
sometimes until afternoon. There are still public Turkish baths in most parts of Iran but the difference is
that showers have been replaced with reservoirs which were not applicable to the hygienic basics at all.
There have been some common proverbs between people based on the customs followed in the ancient
Turkish baths.
Some of these customs are mentioned here. Most of the customs refer to a newcomer person, for instant
when the newcomer entered reservoir he had to say hello to everyone, stand on the first step, take some
water by his two hands and offer the free water to everyone present there, no matter they were strangers
or familiar to him. Sometimes he was even kinder to strangers because he was bashful about them.
Another custom was that the newcomer was bound to make a big pail full of warm water and poured it
on the older people’s head washing themselves to express his politeness and humility. It might have
happened as many times as the number of the older people there according to age priority. It may have
happened to them not to need any water at the time but it could not prevent the newcomer from
expressing his politeness and respect.
If he saw one of his older relatives or friends when he would come in, he must have gone to them
immediately and massage them or insisted on washing their backs by a washcloth and soap to pay homage
to them. This was the other manner which he had to do.
These traditions became common among people since Turkish baths were found and people did not use
the rivers or spas to wash their bodies anymore. It is also notable that these traditions would vary or not
be exactly the same in different regions in Iran.
Below is a related quotation from a deceased writer and translator, Ali Javaher Nia, from one of his books.
During Qajar dynasty going to public Turkish baths was too difficult, so most people would go to bath
almost at the end of the fall and then avoid taking a bath until the new year’s Eve. It was not true just
about Iran, the European countries did not know much about baths. They got familiar with them while
they came to the orient by crusade. However, taking a bath was avoided and somehow the action was
trendy for a long time after that in some countries. It is said that one of the French queens had not taken
a bath for about five years and she was proud of that.
The ancient Turkish baths were a few meters lower than the ground surface, otherwise the water would
not accumulate in the reservoir. Pictures of an ogre and a mythical character called “Rostam “or Damon
and the owner of the hell were drawn on the portal. I have not found out yet what the relation between
these pictures and the bath is, anyway we went a few steps down to get to dressing room.
“Dressing room” was a covered yard with a large pond in the middle and it was surrounded by long
platforms which was used for undressing. The bath cashier would sit next to or on one of the platforms
and he had the till beside himself. There was a large oil lamp or sometimes a chandelier hanging from the
ceiling over the pond. Some beams were put all around the dressing room and some colorful spheres were
hung as well. There was always a huge earthen bowl full of plums and plum juice, some small bowls and
some wooden spoons on a stool near the pond. In the winter, you could find beetroots with vinegar in the
earthen bowl instead of plums.
Beside the cashier, three other people worked in the dressing room as the manager, the masseur, and the
doorman. When a customer came, first the doorman would put his shoes under the platform and spread
a dry loincloth on it. As he was disrobed, the doorman would give him another loincloth. He would tie it
around himself, put his clothes in the first loincloth and would come down from the platform. He would
pass through a dark corridor, open the door, and enter the bathhouse flooring. Here there were some
alcoves, some arches, some eivans(terrace), and a small cold water pond. Also some doormen and some
This might be interesting that the Iranians did not use the reservoir until Qajar dynasty. As the
contemporary historian, “Rahimzade Safavi”, has said, all the reservoirs were closed and the water was
taken via a hole connected to the, called ”Akhor”.
The reservoirs were opened just in the last century and leaded to dirtiness in the Turkish baths.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *