History of Russian banya

Russian banya was first mentioned in the chronicles in the 10th century, and since then it has always played a significant role in the life of Russian people. Banya was used for many purposes - washing, giving birth to children, fortune-telling and domestic magic, etc. Of course, the main purpose was to relax and to wash oneself. People visited banya on Saturdays and before religious holidays.

Russian Emperors liked to go to banya. When Peter the Great was in Paris, a big banya was built on the banks of the Seine River, and the citizens of Paris were shocked to see Russians running out of banya and dipping in the river.

Banya is usually built on the banks of either the lake or the river and consists of three rooms - steam room, washing room and dressing room. In the middle centuries, a so-called “black banya”, or “smoke banya” was widely spread in Russia. It did not have a chimney and during the heating process the smoke got accumulated inside. Once the banya got hot they opened the doors and windows to get the smoke out. The walls and the ceiling were always black because of the smoke. Today it is difficult to find a real black banya, so it is a unique experience not only for foreigners but also for Russians themselves. There is a “smoke banya” in Kinerma village.

Later people started to build stoves with big chimneys in banyas, and "white" banyas appeared.

Banya Culture in Russia

Nowadays people build Russian banyas in the villages and near their summer houses outside of the city, try to find a good place for banyas closer to the lake or river or another water reservoir. In some regions in northern Russia Finnish sauna is also popular. There is a tradition of dipping in the water in summer or even into an ice-hole in winter after getting steamed thoroughly in the steam-room.

Banya is believed to cure some diseases. Some people when they catch cold go to banya to get some warmth and to get rid of the infection.

Russians take besoms made of birch leaves, juniper or oak leaves. They beat themselves or each other with besoms and blood starts to circulate faster.

Today Russian banya is more like an entertainment activity rather than a part of life for most Russians. There is a special ceremony of going to banya for several hours, relaxing with a cup of tea or couple of beers afterwards. Visiting Russian banya is a unique opportunity to feel the old Russian tradition which survived till our days.

Russian banya experience

The first way to experience Russian banya is to visit a public banya in a city. In Moscow there are several historical banyas, including famous Sanduny banya established in the early XIX Century. Public banyas can be found in most of Russian cities.

The second option is to go to the countryside and visit a small wooden banya. Russians built banyas by their summer houses ("datcha"). Countryside hotels and guesthouses may also have small banyas available for small companies and individuals.