Iran’s Bathhouses Washing Away

Iran’s Bathhouses Washing AwayIran’s Bathhouses Washing Away

The glorious days of bathhouses are long gone. Few people appreciate the graceful archways and tiled walls now gradually disappearing in the dilapidated buildings where bridegrooms were groomed once.

Some bathhouses, known as ‘hammam’s in Persian, are centuries old, Associated Press reported; but business has declined as modern conveniences now allow showers and baths in most houses across the country. The few that remain, mostly in old neighborhoods, largely draw day laborers and travelers.

“Currently, there are only three or four public bathhouses in Tehran,” says Mahdi Sajjadi, head of the Tehran bathhouse owners’ association.

In the old days, bathhouses were more than just a place to clean up, shave or get a massage from a ‘dallak’, who uses a mitt to scrub and exfoliate a client’s back; back then, people gathered in the humid air to discuss current events and exchange ideas.

Now, bathhouse owners like Gholam Ali Amirian, 70, who has spent four decades working in a hammam, dating back to some 850 years ago, fear the business will dissipate just as the steam above the heated pool of the bathhouse.

“Some 35 years ago, before the revolution, we had lots of customers,” Amirian says. “At 4 in the morning, when I showed up to open the hammam’s door, there were people already in a queue. Five people worked here and we had over 50 customers a day. But now we have three customers a day on average.”

Sajjadi suggests the government could turn the bathhouses into tourist attractions by offering owners low-interest loans to renovate their aging interiors. So far, however, there has been no move to do that.