he impressions of foreign visitors to Russia of XVII century baffled all description:
"There were no place without even a small steam bath. It is true that Russians can bear extreme heat. They lie on wooden shelves in a small house without windows, beat and rub bodies of each other with hot birch or oak besoms. It's going without saying, that after such heat Russians became red and are poured over themselves cold water. In winter,(just imagine!) they jump out of heat, and roll in snow, then again enter into the bath. They believe that such temperature drop does good to their health!"
Famous and beloved in Russia, Peter the Great was an active admirer of Russian bath. Thus when he founded St. Petersburg in 1703, he encouraged people to build baths that were not taxed.
Russian bath is built of logs stacked against each other without any gaps. In the beginning baths were heated "po-chernomu" (in a black way), that means a heated oven established directly in a steam room smoking directly into the room. Because of this smoke, the walls in were reeky and black.
Russian bath was always made of wood and was very simple, even ascetic, inside. Bath had two rooms - a rest room where undressed people had breaks, and a steam room itself.
The steam room was heated up by a burning hot oven, water was heated by different ways. At first, people just threw red-hot stones into the barrels with water. Later, boilers were fixed into ovens. Water was heated up during all time while the oven was heated and the clouds rose around a room.
A besom is a basic attribute of Russian bath. There is a wide range of besoms: birch, oak and linden to name a few. Bath besoms are prepared in summer time and are kept specially for bath all the year round. Besoms are made of twigs with leaves and dried so that leaves stay green and are not peeled off. Right before using, a besom is soaked in hot water. Beating a body with a besom has a massage effect and improves blood circulation.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend you to have this wonderful experience yourself at least once in your life.
S legkim parom!
By Olga Timokhina