By Afshin Majlesi

Discover outstanding example of Iranian bathhouse

February 14, 2021 - 17:45

In earlier times, bathhouses or hammams were not only places for bathing and cleaning up in Iran. They were also venues where people socialized, shared humor and news; a peaceful place for exchanging views about politics and everyday life.

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, which is the subject of this article, is an outstanding example of such public places. The centuries-old bathhouse is located in the oasis city of Kashan on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir aka the Great Salt Desert.

The bathhouse is now a top tourist destination, featuring very eye-catching decorations. The lime and gypsum plaster of this building stare everyone’s eyes. Lime cutting, the art of sculpture, embossed on a surface of lime, is one of the most beautiful decorations of Iranian buildings.

Turquoise blue and golden tiles, seven layers of plaster, and special architecture, have made this bathroom one of the most prominent baths in Iran. Other features include the use of vaulted ceilings, intricate tilework, mosaics, and wall paintings that have been designed to create special effects.

Twisting corridors is a feature of Kashani architecture, designed to maximize the privacy of the household; here in the bathhouse, the purpose was to keep in the steam.

From another point of view, it is somehow an anthropology museum as many wax effigies there, clad in traditional attire, are expected to display scenes of its heyday.

A recent restoration has stripped away rotten layers of plaster to reveal the original sarough, a type of plaster made of milk, egg white, soy flour, and lime that is said to be stronger than cement. Richly colored tiles and delicate painting feature throughout, and a further highlight is the panorama of the town’s minarets and badgirs viewed from the roof.

The rooftop of this bathroom is one of the symbolic places of Kashan and the subject of many photographers. In the old days, the rooftop of baths was a place to dry clothes and towels, so there was a stairway to access there. Some domes are placed on this roof, each with luminous convex lens glasses to give enough light to the various parts of the bathroom and prevent it from seeing inside of it.

Entering a bathhouse through a corridor, there is a large room covered with intricate tiles and equipped with wooden benches, which is called ‘rakhtkan’. It is a place for customers to undress and tie a gamucha (“long”) around their waists. It is also a place for drinking tea, smoking, and chatting with others.

The dressing room was a covered courtyard with a large pool in the middle and high platforms around which remove their clothes. There were poles around the locker rooms and colorful glass balls were hung on the poles. The master of the bath sat on one of those platforms or one of the platforms. A large lamp and sometimes chandelier hung from the roof of the dressing room above the pool.

In the past, some people took a bath before sunrise until eight o’clock in the morning, and from that time until the afternoon, women would have a bath. It is interesting to know that washing in public baths had different etiquettes, some of which is given below:

Everyone who entered the bath greeted the people who were washing. Later, the person would take some of the water from the tub with a copper bowl and pour it on the shoulders of the people in the bath, whether familiar or unfamiliar, even showing more love and affection to strangers because they believed, friends and acquaintances do not need compliments. There is an Iranian proverb that says about two very close friends that “they are friends in the bath and the garden.”

Many believed that bathhouses were placed for treatment; the existence of hot and cold water reservoirs was used to treat some diseases. Bathhouses were sometimes used as shelters for those who fled from various social or political events.

For water supply, two wells were utilized, and for transferring water between different parts of the bathroom, tannins or pottery were used. Bowls made of copper were used for heating the water and pipes channeled the water underground heating the floors.

The fuel for baths in the past was desert thorns, firewood and animal dried defecation. Under the bathtub, there was a fireplace or a firebox, and a large copper vessel was placed under the floor of the tub, and a fire was lit under it so that the tub water would be warm during the night and warm for bathing in the early morning.

In those days, mosques, bazaars, houses, bathhouses, and subterranean cisterns constituted the main elements of each Iranian city.

There are still hundreds of bathhouses across the country, many of which have lost their original function since nearly all people have bathrooms in their homes as the result of a ubiquitous clash between traditionalism and modernism.