A Turkish bath (Turkish: hamam, Arabic: حمّام, ḥammām) is the Islamic variant of the Roman bath, steambath, sauna, or Russian banya, distinguished by a focus on water, as distinct from ambient steam.
In Western Europe, the "Turkish bath" as a method of cleansing and relaxation became popular during the Victorian era. The process involved in taking a Turkish bath is similar to that of a sauna, but is more closely related to ancient Greek and ancient Roman bathing practices.
The Turkish bath starts with relaxation in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air, allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before they wash in cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.
The difference between the Islamic hammam and the Victorian Turkish bath is the air. The hot air in the Victorian Turkish bath is dry; in the Islamic hammam the air is often steamy. The bather in a Victorian Turkish bath will often take a plunge in a cold pool after the hot rooms; the Islamic hammam usually does not have a pool unless the water is flowing from a spring. In the Islamic hammams the bathers splash themselves with cold water.
The Victorian Turkish bath was described by Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum in a lecture to the Royal Society of Medicine given in 1861, one year after the first Victorian Turkish bath was opened in London:
The discovery that was lost and has been found again, is this, in the fewest possible words: The application of hot air to the human body. It is not wet air, nor moist air, nor vapoury air; it is not vapour in any shape or form whatever. It is an immersion of the whole body in hot common air.
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