The Moscow Banya,
similar in some ways to a Moscow sauna but so much more, and also known as a public
bath, is an institution in Russia. Russians have used banyas for eons.
They are used not only for cleaning, but also for socializing. Banyas are
an intricate part of Russian culture. To have a true banya experience is to
look deeply into the Russian soul.
There is a
friendly phrase in Russian which is used in everyday language. “S lekheem
parom” means literally “I wish you a light steam” which refers to the baths.
Russians typically wish this to each other when they enter the bath or even
when they plan to take a bath at home, in the hopes that they don’t over-do
In fact the
most popular Russian film released in January 2008 is called “Irony of Fate
– or s lekheem parom” . It’s a wonderful film about a young Muscovite who
goes to the banya with his friends, gets very drunk and his friends put him
on a plane to St. Petersburg. He wakes up at the airport in St. Petersburg,
not knowing he has left Moscow, and tells the taxi drive his address. It so
happens there is a similar address in St. Petersburg. He enters another
persons apartment unknowingly and the adventure starts from there. If you
would like to learn more about this film, see their web site.
Some 50 banyas
remain in Moscow, down from 120 in 1946. 50 years ago many apartments did
not have their own bathrooms so it was a daily ritual. Nowadays only the
largest and most comfortable banyas remain.
experience is approximately as follows. There are separate areas for
men and women. You clean yourself in a shower or at a bench
with a bucket of water. You then proceed to a steam room. You typically
stay in the steam for 8 to 12 minutes or until sweat comes from your nose.
There are different levels in the banya – the highest level is the hottest
and usually only the hearties of Russians go there. Frequently somebody will
pour a ladle of water onto the hot stones to bring forth more steam – beware
that you are not too close to the blast. Russians also love to pour a
little beer on the hot stones to add some flavor to the steam. A very
Russian tradition is a take a branch of leaves called “feniky” and lightly
beat the back of a fellow bather in the steam room. This is believed to
open up the pores.
out of the banya, Russians will usually jump into a pool of cold water. It
feels great after the heat and closes the pores.
The cycle of
banya/pool is usually repeated at least four times or however long you feel
comfortable. Sometimes people will take a break in between and take some
tea, drink some beer and have something light to eat.
There are two
leading banyas in Moscow. The one that I usually recommend is the one below, as
it’s the most central in the city as well as the most impressive. The
picture on the top is the entrance hall of this banya.
Address : ul
Hours : 8am –
Price : 2000 to
2400 rubles for a 2 hour session. Children under 12: 300 rubles.
Here's site in
and here's the
Built in 1808,
Sandunovsky is not only the oldest bath house in the city, but so grandiose
and rich in it’s interior, that Fyodor Chaliapin, the famous opera singer,
dubbed it the “Czar of bath-houses”. It is a veritable palace, with huge
halls, tall ceilings, sculpted decorations, marble staircases, exquisite
gold frescos, and statues. They have a historical changing room, where the
attendants will pamper you and offer you food and drinks right there if you