Banya, sauna, hammam, bathhouse, spa, sentō, jjimjilbang, sweat lodge. Throughout much of the world, a weary traveler will sooner or later stumble upon some combination of water, steam and communal nudity. Used, in varying measure, for recreation, hygiene, spiritual enlightenment or social (and sometimes physical) intercourse, each one presents a distinct set of spaces, rules and rituals. Some bathing cultures are a result of happy geomorphological accidents—think of Iceland’s rugged thermal pools or the refined Japanese onsen. Some encourage indulgence, like the opulent spas of continental Europe; others, like the Finnish sauna or the Russian banya, foster a more egalitarian spirit. But there are cross-cultural commonalities among all that oscillate between hedonism and asceticism, between pleasure and virtue. Remote Russian villages and some private homes still feature traditional banyas, but they were gradually adapted to the more This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty-Eight Buy Now Related Stories Arts & Culture Issue 45 Cult Rooms How California’s empty swimming pools changed youth culture. Arts & Culture Issue 44 Cult Rooms Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar is an otherworldly playground designed for celestial gazing. Arts & Culture Issue 43 Cult Rooms The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths rendered gruesome crimes in divine miniatures. Arts & Culture Issue 42 Cult Rooms In the foothills of the Alps, socialism, modernism and manufacturing came together in IVREA, Olivetti's remarkable “company town.” Arts & Culture Issue 41 CULT ROOMS Inside Alexander Calder’s studio, where chaos and kinetic art found a harmonious balance. Arts & Culture Issue 33 Cult Rooms: Black Mountain College Black Mountain College was an incubator for visionary designers, but the campus itself was a hodgepodge of styles—and a health and safety nightmare.