May 5, 2012

The Bagnio, 1783 James

The Bagnio, 1783
James Capper

After your arrival at Cairo, I would advise you as well for your health as for pleasure, almost immediately to repair to the Hummam or Bagnio. The Turkish manner of bathing is infinitely superior to any thing of the kind that is now known, or at least practised, in any part of Europe, for even most of the inhabitants of Italy, once so famous for the magnificence of their baths, have long neglected this luxurious but salutary custom. As some of your friends may never have seen a Turkish bagnio, I shall attempt a description of what I used, which was one of the common sort, such as are to be met with in every city of the Levant.

The first room is the undressing chamber which is lofty and spacious. Near the wall is a kind of bench raised about two feet from the floor, and about seven or eight feet wide, so that after bathing a person may lie down upon it full length; the windows are near the top of the room, as well that the wind may not blow upon the bathers when undressed, as for decency’s sake.

After undressing a servant gives you a napkin to wrap round you, and also a pair of slippers, and thus equipped you are conducted through a narrow passage to the steam room or bath, which is a large round room of about twenty-five feet diameter paved with marble, and in the centre of it is a circular bench where you are seated until you find yourself in a profuse perspiration, then your guide or attendant immediately begins rubbing you with his hand covered in a piece of coarse stuff called keffay, and thereby peels off from the skin a kind of scurf, which cannot be moved by washing only.

When he has rubbed you a few minutes he conducts you to a small room, where there is a hot bath about four feet deep and ten feet square, in which he will offer to wash you having his hand covered with a smoother stuff than before; or you may have some perfumed soap given you to wash yourself. After you have remained here as long as is agreeable, you are conducted to another little side room, where you find two cocks of water, the one hot the other cold, which you may throw over yourself with a basin, the water being tempered to any degree of warmth, or perfectly cold if you prefer it.

This being the last ablution, you are then covered with a napkin, and from hence conducted to the undressing room, and placed upon the before-mentioned bench, with a carpet under you and, being extended upon it full length, your attendant again offers to rub you dry with napkins. Some people have their nails cut, and also are shampooed; the Turks generally smoke after bathing and the operation of shampooing; and in about an hour, a few minutes more or less, they commonly dress and go home.


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