Persian Hammam (Persian Bath)

Iran Nomad ToursAdventure StylesPersian Hammam (Persian Bath)

Hammam or Garmaabeh (the bath), is a historical Persian building and concept that has held a significant position in Persian culture due to its importance and necessity in everyday life, its major role in social relations and human interactions, its connection to religious and traditional customs, its relevance to medicine and health practices, and its presence in important life events like weddings and funerals. From birth to death, washing and bathing have been customary practices in Iranian society. As a result, baths were located in the city based on social relations, environmental needs, and water supply systems. This article aims to explore the historical role and status of Persian baths in cities and people’s lives and their distribution and gradual substitution over time. Historical documents suggest that baths used to play a crucial role in Iranian society, even surpassing other public buildings in importance and often serving as an adjunct to them.


Water, being the most fundamental and advantageous element for the survival of living beings and for maintaining physical and spiritual cleanliness, has been an essential part of Persian culture too. Persians view water as a dynamic and living aspect of their cultural heritage. A crucial one.
Since water has always been of great importance in Persian culture, Hammam (the bath) has been a significant feature of cities in Iran and has been deeply integrated into the historical urban fabric. Hammam is a particular type of building with unique architectural features that heavily relies on the usage of large amounts of water. Its architecture, design, and cultural importance in traditional cities and rural areas of Iran reflect its social relevance, closely linked with local customs and rituals. Hammam, as an all-inclusive and interactive cultural space, has played a role in Persian society similar to that of social media in modern times.
In Persian culture, the four natural elements (air, water, fire, and earth) hold a significant place, and water, in particular, has been highly valued. Introducing impurities into clean water was considered a sin and an unforgivable act. Before attending religious ceremonies and prayers, pilgrims would purify themselves by washing in clean water.

A Brief History of Hammams

Cleanliness and purity are important aspects of many religions. The roots of ritual bathing and washing in Iran can be traced back to the emergence of Zoroastrianism in the seventh century B.C. Ablution was regarded as a fundamental component of life in ancient Persia. In the Mithraic religion, worshippers would take ritualistic baths before participating in religious ceremonies. Temples were often constructed near sources of running water or springs to facilitate water-based practices. Cleanliness was also emphasized in Zoroastrianism, with special attention paid to the water goddess Anahita, who was considered the most renowned deity in Persian culture. She was the guardian of water and a symbol of fertility.

Lighting in Hammams

Light has been an integral part of ancient religions, symbolizing the connection between the universe and the divine. Even in modern religions, in the construction of mosques and churches, light continues to hold significance. In ancient Iranian Mithraism, God was known as Mithra or Mitra, which means God of the Sun, and was considered the originator of light, as per the Avesta. To combat the devil in Zoroastrian tradition, God’s light had to be cast upon the devil first and overcome it, and this light gradually grew as a representation of good deeds and tangible evidence of God’s presence.
Architects and historians have also noted that appropriate lighting was a crucial aspect of hammams’ design in ancient Iran. Daylight was welcomed into buildings, including hammams, through openings in the dome to illuminate the inside of the building and light it up.

Persian Hammam

Hammam as a Building

The principles of bathing in a hammam in ancient Persia were similar to modern-day showering but more elaborate. Hammaam was a warm building with a large bowl (aabzan), that heated the water. Hammams date back to the Achaemenid Empire. According to a royal tradition, maidens chosen by the king had to bathe in hammams with perfumes, flowers, and fragrant plants for about six months before being presented to the king. Public hammams became more common in the Sasanian Empire, and they became an important facility in major Persian cities. Hammams played a significant role in social relations, rituals, traditional customs, science, medical techniques, and maintaining good mental health. Washing and hanging out in a hammam was part of one’s cultural identity in ancient Persia, bringing together individuals from all social classes. It was a place where people exchanged ideas, talked about politics, and schemed socio-political change. For many Iranians, men and women alike, spending time at hammam was a common and favorite pastime. Men gambled, partied, played cards, and ate, while women spent long hours in there, eating food and fruits while talking and being brushed or massaged (a special Persian massage called “Mosht-o-maal”), which were some of the services offered at hammams.

Categorization of Historical Hammams

Public baths and private baths are two main categories of historical hammams, which have a significant history in Iran; so much so that during the Safavid era, the number of baths exceeded the number of mosques in Isfahan! Public baths were either located along bazaars or in neighborhoods, next to city gates or caravanserais, for religious minorities, or near hot springs. Private baths were built inside or next to the houses or in gardens, exclusively for a particular person, family, clan, or group, indicating high social status. Some of these private baths were also accessible to the public by payment or free entry.
Traditional customs and practices in public baths have remained mostly consistent across cities, neighborhoods, and religious groups. These customs encompass a range of activities that revolve around cleanliness, health, beauty, entertainment, and cultural and religious rituals. The customs and traditions surrounding human interaction were an essential aspect of the baths’ identity. Historical public baths featured a variety of activities, including cleansing and hygiene rituals such as hair and body washing and hair removal. There were also grooming activities such as henna coloring of hands, feet, and hair, shaving of hair and beard, tattooing (exclusively for men), and makeup for the face and nails (exclusively for women). Medical treatments like bloodletting, circumcision, dental extractions, and orthopedic treatments were also provided. Furthermore, the baths provided facilities for sports activities and exercising such as swimming, massages, steam baths, saunas, and the like.

Outside of a Persian Hammam