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    Russian Baths
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    19.09.2011, 00:44
    Russian Baths






    Banya in Russian can refer to any kind of steam bath, but usually to the Russian type of sauna.
    The earliest description of the banya comes from the Russian Primary Chronicle of 1113. According to the Chronicle, or as it was called by its authors, The Tale of Bygone Years, the Apostle Andrew visited the territories that were later to become Russia during his visit to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea. The belief was held that Andrew crossed through Russia from the mouth of the Dnieper River, passed the hills on which Kiev would later be founded, and went as far north as the ancient city of Novgorod.
    "Wondrous to relate," said he, "I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bathhouses. They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with tallow, they take young reeds and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water, and thus are revived. 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."
    Another mention of the banya is found in the same Chronicle in the story of Princess Olga's revenge for the murder of her husband, Prince Igor, by the Slavic tribe of Drevlians in 945 AD. The leader of the Drevlians had hopes of marrying the widow Olga and sent messengers to discuss the idea. "When the Drevlians arrived, Olga commanded that a bath should be made ready for them and said, 'Wash yourselves and come to me.' The bath-house was heated and the unsuspecting Drevlians entered and began to wash themselves. [Olga's] men closed the bath-house behind them and Olga gave orders to set it on fire from the doors, so that the Drevlians were all burned to death."
    Banya buildings can be quite large with a number of different bathing areas or simple wooden cabins like the traditional Finnish cottage saunas. Russian banyas usually have three rooms: a steam room, a washing room and an entrance room. The entrance room, called a predbannik or pre-bath, has pegs to hang clothing upon and benches to rest on. The washing room has a hot water tap, which uses water heated by the steam room stove and a vessel or tap for cold water to mix water of a comfortable temperature for washing. The heater has three compartments: a fire box that is fed from the entrance room, the rock chamber, which has a small hole to throw the water into and a water tank at the top. The top of the water tank is usually closed to prevent vapour from infiltrating the banya. Water to be thrown on the rocks should be taken from the tank as this will make better steam than if cold water were used. If an electric heater is used, the firebox is omitted. Most Russians believe the wood-burning stove is a better banya heater and studies have shown that negative ions are produced from wood-fired heaters, while electric heaters produce positive ions. Physiologically, the presence of negative ions in a sweat bath is as important as the heat. Water from a bucket by the stove is poured over the heated rocks in the stove. There are wooden benches across the room. People enter the steam room when the stove is hot, but before water is poured on the rocks. Getting a good sweat on before using water is preferred to using steam right away, as the sweat is thought to protect and condition the skin from the steam.



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