Wash and cleanliness are very important concepts among the Iranian in a way that both religion and mythology have paid attention to them and Jamshid the mythological king of Iran commanded to build the first bath. Besides, there are some proofs in archeological excavations of Chogha Zanbil which show the existence of bath in second millennium before the birth of Christ. Also, in some archeological investigations, it was revealed that there were some constructions in Sassanid Empire which were associated with baths. By the advent of Islam in Iran in 7th century and its emphasis on cleanliness, building baths found more importance. In the sources remained from different Islamic centuries of Iran, the significance of bath and its related customs can be observed.
The Structure of Iranian Bath
The Iranian baths have one common structure and what is considerably important in building them is to minimize the significant temperature changes. Hence, the baths were build lower than ground level to preserve interior heat of the bath. Another action was to build spiral corridors between the entrance of the bath and “Dehliz” (a dark space between the corridor and dressing room) which prevented the exit of heat. Dressing room or “Beyne” was a well-decorated space in which people prepared themselves for taking bath, it was a semi-warm and moderately dry environment. The next space was called “Garmkhane” which was a completely warm and moist room. Passing from a semi-warm environment to a warm one or vice versa was that sudden change of temperature which must have been moderated as much as possible, it happened through spiral corridors which were called “Miandar” (a dividing space between the warm and cool parts of baths). There were one or two platforms in Miandar wherein people could use “gamucha” (a traditional thin, coarse cotton towel) and placed their bathroom stuff like soap, shampoo and so on. After passing Miandar, people reached Garmkhane, this room was divided into different spaces such as a place for using washing mitt, a place for cleaning yourself and a pool for washing your body which was called “Khazane”. Around Garmkhane of the old public baths there were some relatively deep arcades which were similar to stalls equipped with platforms, they were called “Shahneshin” and also there were one or two small rooms called “Khalvat” which were used only for particular people. The Iranian traditional baths lacked shower and were mainly equipped with “Khazineh” (a large water-filled basin). The fully equipped baths had 3 types of Khazineh for using hot water, cold water and lukewarm water. The thermal reservoir which was called “Toon” was located beneath Khazineh, the heat was spread in Garmkhane through small channels which were under ground and called “Gorbero”. The lighting of bath was provided from the ceiling and through an object which was called “Jaam Khaneh”, it was made of glass and its thickness varied depending on the heat or cold of the environment.
Applications of the Baths
In the past, in addition to the main application of baths i.e. a place for washing yourself, people gathered there with the purpose of consulting and sorting out social issues. Besides, different ceremonies such as “Hanabandan” (bridal henna party), wedding bath and the bath after giving birth to a baby were held in the baths as well. In some neighborhoods which had only one bath, there was a specific schedule in which some days it was used by women and the other days, the men were allowed to use it. In the neighborhoods having more than one bath, there were separate baths for men and women and even religious minorities had their own special bath. In addition to public baths, there were some authorities in different historical eras who had their own special baths. Using the traditional baths in Iran was common till the last decade, today these baths have been replaced with public baths. However, in some small cities and villages, using traditional baths is still common among their inhabitants. Until recently, the baths, like mosques and schools, were considered public buildings and all of the people, from all walks of life, used public baths, even the authorities of Qajar dynasty used these baths as they did not have any personal bath in their own homes.
Replacement of Khazineh with Shower
From the early 20th century, Khazineh was replaced with shower in order to observe hygiene and they were no longer used for washing and cleaning body. Unlike old baths, the buildings of new baths were constructed from the floor and the showers of public baths were installed inside of small chambers around Garmkhane. Today, many of the historical baths have become a tourist attraction because of their impressive and beautiful decorations such as paintings, tiling and forging and even some of them have become museum from among them, it can be pointed out to Vakil Bath in Shiraz, Pahneh Bath in Semnan, Ganjali Khan Bath in Kerman, Four-Season Bathhouse in Arak, Ali Shah and Shaykh Bahai Baths in Isfahan.