Steam bathing can be traced back thousands of years with the ancient Greeks, Romans and Turks recognising the benefits of steam to enhance health and wellbeing. The original Roman baths utilised thermal underground springs, with the Caldarium room (the hottest of a series of three bathing rooms) being built directly on top of this heat source with the walls being hollow to allow the heat to rise through them. The Roman Baths and Turkish Hammams were considered an integral and important part of social culture with the men congregating in the baths to discuss the various political and social issues of the day. The Hammams were originally adjoined to mosques to enable cleansing and purifying before prayer and the prophet Muhammad taught that steam and hot water helped enhance fertility. However, they became a more separate facility during the period of the Ottoman Empire.
The Aztec people also had a form of steam room called a Temazcal which was considered to be a cleansing and healing place – somewhere to purify the body after battles and physical exertion.
During the 1850’s, British diplomat David Urquhart introduced Turkish Baths to Britain and promoted them in great detail in his book The Pillars of Hercules (1850), which led to the Irish physician Richard Barter including them in his system of hydropathy. Urquhart was instrumental in the building of the men-only Turkish baths at 76 Jermyn Street, London and lectured widely on the benefits of steam bathing recommending it as a cure for almost all known Victorian ailments!
Over the next 150 years more than 600 Turkish baths opened throughout the United Kingdom and bathing in a sauna or steam room is now considered a normal, regular part of many people’s routine as the health and relaxation benefits continue to be well documented.