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Khalid Swift
Khalid Swift


Number of baths. In the 3rd/9th century Baghdad boasted 5,000 baths, 100 years later 10,000, but it had only 2,000 baths in the 6th/12th century. However, these figures must be taken with a grain of salt (Mez, pp. 365-66). In the Safavid era cities like Isfahan boasted countless public bathhouses. Rich Persians and Europeans had, of course, their own private baths (Kaempfer, p. 155). Although some efforts have been made to list surviving historical monuments in various Iranian cities, in the absence of archeological research we have no data on the number of bathhouses in the most important urban centers in Iran prior to the 19th century. We are better served for the latter period, although the data base is not always very reliable.


At least once, sometimes twice a year, Persians had themselves cupped (gar-tarāšī, rag-zanī, or ḥejāmat; see BLOODLETING) in the bathhouses, because it was generally believed that this was healthy (Šahrī, pp. 257-59). As a number of persons are in the bath at one time, part of the time is passed in talking and smoking and sometimes sleeping. On coming out the client gets a white towel and returns to the first room, where his body is massaged (moštmāl-e bīrūnī) during some 15 minutes, which is different from the first massage. After drying and some relaxation the client takes his clothes and leaves. Outside the ḥammām there are all kinds of fruit and juice sellers to cater to the needs of the refreshed customers.

According to Waring, five days were allotted to men and only two to women; according to Polak, only the mornings were for women. To announce that the bathhouse was open for men, two old loincloths were hung flanking the entrance door or the entrance from the street. The sign for women was a thick curtain hung in front of the door. The entrance for male baths was in the street itself, while for women it was at the end of a lane.

J. Šahrī, Gūša-ī az tārīḵ ejtemāʿī-e Tehrān-e qadīm, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978, pp. 236-88 (a comprehensive description of traditional ḥammāms in Tehran and all the practices, customs, rituals, beliefs, and superstitions associated with public bathhouses).