International Exposition of Paris 1867

Agriculture, Industry and Fine Arts

April 1, 1867 - November 3, 1867


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Turkish baths

Turkish baths at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Let us now turn to the Turkish baths which stand a short distance away, on the left as you leave the mosque.

There is such a remarkable analogy between the baths in use in the East and those adopted by the ancients, that one is tempted to wonder whether their origin is not due to an exchange of ideas and procedures between two civilisations. But the tendency to go back to the causes gives rise to more than one error, and we think it is more rational to attribute in many cases the identity of habits to the similarity of the needs which they are intended to satisfy. In any case, we believe that we must highlight the parallel between the baths spread among all the Muslim populations and those which were the delights of Rome, by briefly describing the two methods which have so many points of contact.


The bathing flat in Rome consisted of a small courtyard surrounded by porticoes on three sides; on the fourth side was a basin used for communal cold bathing; this basin, called the baptisterium, was sometimes large enough for swimming and was covered by a roof supported by projecting columns.

Next was the frigidarium, another cold bath, but in an iron room, at the nth of which was a vast tub, capable of holding several persons at a time: near these baths was the Apodyptarium or cloakroom, in which slaves, after having undressed the bathers, folded their clothes and put them in boxes or cupboards arranged for that purpose. Next came the Tepidarium, or hot bath: there were usually several baths here, but the main one, into which one descended by marble steps, was placed next to a hemicycle furnished with two rows of steps.


Further on was the Caldarium or sudatorium, a steam room; this room, quite usually circular, was surrounded by three rows of marble steps; in the centre was a basin of boiling water, from which a cloud or vapour similar to a thick cloud came out, which, rising in the middle of the room, escaped through a narrow opening made in the top of the vault. On entering the room, one was placed on the first tier, then on the second, and finally on the third, in order to accustom oneself by degrees to the temperature of the latter, which, as it was
the temperature of the latter, which, because of its situation, was hotter than the others. Independently of this steam, the pavement, the steps, the coverings of the room, and even the adjacent corridors, were heated by subterranean furnaces as well as the tepidarium. On leaving the steam room, the bathers entered the hot bath to become accustomed to the outside air; there, slaves gently scraped the skin of the bathers with strigils, a kind of spatula made of ivory or metal, shaped to follow the contours of the muscles and all the parts of the body, in order to extract the sweat; They were then wiped with linen or cotton cloths, and covered, according to Petronius, with a gausape, a kind of long-haired coat of fine wool; next came the Alipili or depilers, who were also responsible for cutting the nails, and finally the claco-thesii, who anointed the skin with oils and perfumed essences.

Here is how oriental baths are generally laid out:
In the interior of the first room there is a gallery formed by two or three inter-columns, raised on a base about four feet high, in which small niches are made flush with the floor: The ceiling of the middle part, which is much higher than that of the galleries, is lit by a lantern; in the centre of the room is a basin from which a jet of water emerges: the bather places his shoe in the small niches and undresses under the gallery whose floor is covered with mats or carpets. The second room, although square, is surmounted by a dome supported by pendentives; it is pierced by an infinite number of small round openings through which the light penetrates through small glass bells fixed to the dome.

In the centre of the room is a large tub surmounted by columns; it is similar to the one previously described: from the middle of the tub rises a small basin from which a spray of hot water gushes out; it is on this sort of base that the bather is massaged; moreover, marble tubs three or four feet high are placed in the niches on three sides of the room. From the middle of these niches a small pool of water escapes under which the bather presents himself.

Independently of this hot bath, there is a steam room, a very small room, vaulted and lit like the previous one: it is heated, not only by a spray of boiling water which rises in the centre, but also by heat ducts established under the pavement and under the steps which surround the room.

On leaving the steam room and entering the hot bath, slaves massage the bathers; they are then rubbed with fairly rough brushes and camel's hair gloves; finally, they are perfumed with essences and fragrant oils.

It is well known how much the Muslim peoples value the soft delights of steam baths. In Asia and northern Africa, the baths are a favourite meeting place for men, a place of recreation for women, and a favourite theatre for storytellers to set their most animated scenes. One has only to think of the stories of the Thousand and One Nights to verify the accuracy of this assertion, and we urge our readers not to enter this part of the Park until they have evoked before their memory the charming Arab legends; this will be the true means of restoring the character of the monuments and of spending a pleasant half-hour with the imagination, this twin sister of reason, which the latter perhaps causes us to neglect.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée