Around the world public bath houses vary considerably. They are shaped by gender norms, geography & climate, and local traditions. They are an ancient tradition going back to Roman times (one would be hard-pressed to find a Roman town or villa of note without a bath). While Northern Europe (esp. Finland) is famous for its saunas, the Islamic world is famous for its hammams or Turkish baths.

Today one can still bathe in the ancient Roman baths of Bath, England. These baths really do live up to the hype - although the tradition of bathing there is very Victorian. A better sense of Roman baths can be found in the hammams and bath houses of the Mediterranean. The Germany city of Tier has the largest Roman bath complex outside of Roman.

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What Are Hammams or Turkish Baths & Their Etiquette?

Hammams are a type of steam bath that can be found from Turkey to Morocco to Iran. They descend from a tradition set by the Roman's thermae and around found across the Middle East and North Africa.

  • Hammam: Also Called Turkish Baths Are The Bath Houses of Islamic Countries

Traditions, etiquette, and what to expect in bath houses very considerably by country and region. For example traditional bath houses in Post Soviet countries are normally gender separated and people do not normally wear towels or clothes of any sort.

In Central Europe the genders are normally together and generally not clothes are worn (they are normally forbidden in the saunas).

  • Clothes: Clothes, a Tower, or Loincloth Are Normally Worn In Hammams
  • Gender: Many are Gender Seperated (Some Are Mixed or One Gender Only)

Hammams are always gender separated and some sort of covering is normally worn (note we will not discuss erotic hammams here - only more traditional Turkish baths). In Moroccan and Iranian hammams it is normal to wear bathing shorts - or the clothes one would normally wear at the beach.

  • Scrub: A Skin Scrub Is Common In Hammams

In these traditional hammams it is common to have a scrub to remove all the dead skin - this is normally done by someone of the same gender in the common bathing area. The scrub can also be something of a massage.

Related: Visit The Baths Of Caracalla: Rome's Lesser-Known Ruins

What To Know Of Turkey's Turkish Bath Houses

More traditional Turkish bath houses or Turkish hammams can differ from their Iranian and Arab relatives (although they are also gender seperated and towels are worn - not normally swimwear). One can also find Turkish hammams that have mixed gender (with everyone wearing a towel). But check before going to a Turkish bath house - some are only for men or only for women at certain dates and times.

There is a bathing area and sauna. But one of the central attractions of the Turkish bath house is the soap bath, wash, and massage. This is normally done by women and one is washed and given a very unique soap-bubble massage that is hard to descibe.

  • Bubble Massage: A Unique Turkish Soap Bubble Massage Everyone Should Try

After a thorough wash and bubble massage bath, there is normally also a full relaxing massage. If one is wondering, Turkish baths feel good and are very relaxing.

  • Cost: Normally Very Affordable In Turkey

The prices for the service varies by hammam to hammam but they are normally not expensive. One should normally not pay more than $30 - $40 for an hour long wash and massage.

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Why People Go To Bath Houses?

Bath houses are a tradition going back thousands of years and remain an important part of the region's culture. Today everyone has a shower at home, but the saunas and steam rooms of the bath houses offer a deep clean that household showers just don't. Sometimes they also offer massages - they are places of relaxation. People to go the bathhouses for a deep clean, massage, and because its an enjoyable tradition.

  • Tradition: They Are A Millennia-Long Tradition

A scrub leaves one feeling rejuvinated and refreshed like a shower doesn't. It is also a very socialable and enjoyable experience for many people.

  • Relaxing: They Are a Rejuvinated and Reinvigorating Experience
  • An Experience: They Are A Great Way To Experience The Local Culture

As a tourist, it is also a great way to see another side of a country's culture and to see how Roman traditions never truely died but live on today. In Islamic cultures they can also carry the significance of providing ritual ablutions as well as general hygiene.