Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
Walks With Folks
What is Russian Banya all About?
There is a long history of Banya and Sauna in different parts of the world. Many have heard of the Finnish Sauna or the Turkish Bath or perhaps even the Moroccon Hammam. All of them have a certain flare to them - however, the Russian Banya has definitely something very special about it. Let's delve and try to understand its essence.

Brief History of Russian Banya

Supposedly it was Apostle Andrew who visited the lands of the Ancient Kyivan Rus back in the 12th century and was the first one to write about the bathing traditions of the Eastern Europeans. He wrote about the wooden bathhouses, which were heated to extreme heat, and how the Russians would lash themselves with reeds before drenching themselves with cold water. He concluded:

"They think nothing of doing this every day, and actually inflict such voluntary torture on themselves. They make of the act not a mere washing but a veritable torment."

There is definitely something very melancholically Russian about this quote that to decipher it would mean that we would have to write an entire PhD paper.

Nevertheless, Apostle Andrew was not the only visitor to these lands who wrote about the Banya's. The infamous Casanova supposedly visited Russia in mid 18th century and along with Mark Twain enjoyed the Russian bath houses.

So, what actually happens in a Banya

There are two types of banyas – black banyas where smoke escapes through a hole in the ceiling, and white banyas which use exhaust pipes to vent the steam.

Tea, beer and other drinks are served in the entrance room, and people often linger there, playing games or socializing.

People enter the steam room once rocks or clay balls in a stone stove have become hot, but before water from a bucket is poured over them, so they can raise a good sweat first. This is thought to protect the skin from any detrimental effects of the steam.

Temperatures in the banya often reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and bathers protect their skin with felt hats, mitts, and small mats. They use bunches of dried branches and leaves from white birch, oak, or eucalyptus, called veniks, to improve circulation. Aromatherapy is often used in the steam for its health benefits and because it makes the bath that more enjoyable.

The Russians care so much for their steam baths that they also made them portable. Hiking banyas, a tent extended over a makeshift oven of local stones, are used by soldiers, hikers, and people who travel in the country's harshest environments.

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