Russian banya (a Russian type of steam bath) is one of the oldest Russian traditions. Since ancient times it was believed that the banya combines four main natural elements: water, fire, air and earth. According to the beliefs of the ancient Slavs, visiting the banya, man absorbs the power of these elements and become stronger with body and spirit.
Our ancestors believed that in the cleansing and healing power of banya. It was visited before making important decisions and after a long journey. Later the banya became a symbol of Russian hospitality.
Russian banya was very popular among all social strata - both aristocracy and the common people. Everyone who had enough land could build the banya. In the mid-seventeenth century a decree was issued, which allowed to build the banya only away from the houses: the reason for this rule was the safety from the fire. Then public baths began to appear, together with private baths, where everyone could steam for a fee. The most famous Russian banyas were Sandunov`s, founded in 1808 and functioning to this day.
The banya was traditionally visited on Saturdays in Russia. For this reason Saturday was named banya`s day. In domestic banyas the whole family steamed together: women steamed with men, and it was not considered something wrongdoing. The main difference between the public baths was that men occupied one half of the bathhouse and women occupied the other one.
Banyas` separation for women and men began in 1743, then a special decree was issued which prohibited for men over 7 years old to enter the women's bath, and for women to enter the men's one. For centuries, the banya was of great importance in Russian culture and was closely associated with many other traditions and customs. For example, the banya was visited before the wedding day and on the day after the wedding. Russian banya played an important role in folk medicine: it was considered a reliable and often the only remedy against many diseases. It was a popular proverb in Russia « Washing in the banya is like being born again ». In ancient times, it was believed that if the steam room didn`t help the patient, the other methods of healing wouldn`t help him.