Banya is a bathhouse with a steam room. Taking a steam bath in banya is one of the oldest Russian traditions. In old times, in villages banya was built together with a house and was equally important. In cities, not all but just a few could build a private banya, so there were public banyas. One of the oldest and the most famous banya in Moscow is Sanduny, which is proud of its 19th-century interiors, rich history and myths about their famous visitors. If you would like to take a steam bath in a museum, welcome to Sanduny.
The rich history of Sanduny started in 1808, when Sila Sandunov, an actor, built the first stone bathhouse in Moscow. For this, he sold the diamond jewelry of his wife, the wedding gift from the empress Ekaterina II. He chose the place on the bank of the Neglinka River because its water was the cleanest in Moscow. Sila Sandunov, who used to impress the observers in the theatre, created a bathhouse like a palace with frescoed walls and marble statues. In 1896, the new owner Vera Firsanova reconstructed Sanduny following the tradition of comfort and chic.
The interior of the Male top-class department looks like a medieval castle. More than 200 years it has been a favorite place of the actors, writers, merchants, who could spend many hours here taking tea and communicating. Famous Russian writers Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov visited Sandyny, and brilliant opera singer Feodor Chaliapin used to come on cleaning days and sing in a steam room. Women can visit this place only with a guided tour on cleaning days.
Because of the attractive interiors, Sanduny often became a filming location. Its first role Sanduny’s water-pool played in 1925. It was a role of the Black Sea in the film “The Battleship Potemkin”. Swimming in the water-pool with its blue water, marble walls, Greek pillars and stained-glass windows on the ceiling, can you imagine that in 1938 the historical Battle on the Ice between the army of Alexander Nevsky and the Teutonic Knights was shot here.
The old brick furness and eight tons of cast iron rods heated till the temperature of 800 degrees create the best steam in Moscow when a steam-maker splashes water on them. Regular visitors of Sanduny think that to make good steam is an art and different steam-makers make steam of different quality. They choose a day and a time of their visit to enjoy the “art” of a particular steam-maker.
According to the tradition, after the steam bath, people say “S legkim parom!” (Enjoy your steam!), which means “Let your soul and body feel light after banya”. Banya removes toxins, improve blood circulation, promotes good mood and sleep, and charges with positive energy. However, to get health and not headache, follow the rules. Don’t stay in a steam-room more than 15 minutes, cover your head with a felt hat, and don’t overuse ‘venik’ (a bunch of twigs with leaves’), an essential attribute of the process. If you are a first-timer, perhaps, it is better to hire a steam room attendant. You can also visit Sanduny, the most famous banya in Moscow, with a guided tour on a cleaning day (Tuesday).
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