Today’s Culture with Travel post is by a traveler under the pseudonym, MyBooks&Roads
The banya, or bathhouse, is among the oldest of Russian traditions dating back several centuries. The word banya is of Greek origin and means “cleansing a body with the help of steam.” The banya has long been part of the Ancient Slav culture as a means to purify body and soul.
Russian Television in their feature on the origins of the banya, describes how Peter the Great was such a great devotee of the tradition, that it is said he waived taxes for anyone who built one when he founded St. Petersburg in 1703. Today, these unique bathhouses in St. Petersburg are said to “keep the doctor away” with their therapeutic effects.
According to history, newcomers to Russia were enthralled by the wooden steam houses, where naked people steamed themselves to extremes and lashed themselves with bunches of dried tree branches, or venik. The high temperature is of immense benefit to the body as it cleanses and allows it to flush out toxins and bacteria. It opens pores and enhances blood circulation as well as improves kidney function. A venik massage doubles the healing effects. Locals will tell you that the best banyas are to be found in scenic St. Petersburg.
History is likely repeating itself with many newcomers visiting St. Petersburg in 2018. The city has experienced an unprecedented surge in tourism this year, due to being a host venue for the FIFA World Cup. Ladbrokes in their section on St. Petersburg in the World Cup call it one of the most idyllic host cities. With thousands of fans descending on the city for key matches, we expect many tried the famous banyas listed below.
St. Petersburg Banyas
For those seeking a traditional cleansing experience, the most historic of bathhouses and a favorite of Dostoevsky and Lenin, according to legend, is the Yamskie bathhouse along Dostoevskogo Street. The oldest bathhouse in the city, it has been an institution in St. Petersburg since the middle of the 19th century, offering traditional wellness services in a traditional setting. Both private and shared rooms are available, with experienced therapists and masseuses. Yamskie also offers modern therapy techniques with a cryo chamber on site, an infrared sauna, and a solarium.
If you’re looking for a more traditional and luxurious experience look no further than the bani, located along Degtyarnaya Street. Operating for over 50 years, it offers visitors the traditional wooden bathhouse in a luxury setting. Try the parnaya, or very hot steam, room option for the authentic experience. If you’re feeling brave, the Guardian recommends the venik herbal massage treatment.
If you’re not so much into luxury, and prefer a more rustic and authentic experience, Lotsmanskie bathhouse offers the simple, classical touch of the original Russian bathhouse. Located away from the city center along Lotsmanskaya Street, this simple, authentic bathhouse ensures visitors get a thoroughly good steam in the traditional wooden bathhouse. Lotsmanskie also maintains the old male and female segregation, with men on Friday and Sunday and women on Saturday and Monday.
Another bathhouse that a famous personality used to frequent is the Usachevskie bathhouse along Pereulok Makarenko Boulevard. The Culture Trip reveals in their banya article that Rasputin is said to have visited this bathhouse which offers only public rooms to its visitors. It also maintains the old style with three classes of rooms for the average folk, mixed class and merchants. In keeping with history – and inequality for that matter – the mixed and merchant rooms are only open to women once per week.
For your next visit to the beautiful and historic St. Petersburg, keep in mind this carefully handpicked list, which will surely enhance your Russian immersion. Check out the recent Culture with Travel guide on Russie and the World Cup travel.
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