The sulphur baths of Tbilisi

by Fabian Weiss

Finally! (Issue I/2020)

Royal Bath House in Tiflis -

The Royal Bath House in Tbilisi, Georgia. Foto: Fabian Weiss

“The city draws its life force from its baths,” is a phrase you hear muttered about Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. After all, its sulphur baths have always enlivened its residents. And even the city’s name is derived from its hot springs: The Georgian word "tbili" means "warm". Once upon a time, there were 65 baths at the foot of Narikala Fortress.

These days the Abanotubani baths quarter, where the Royal Bath House pictured here can be seen, has eight baths which are still up and running. In many of them you submerge yourself in the hot water at any time of the day or night. But not for long: the water is between 37 and 47 degrees centigrade, depending on the season. The hot air rises from the domes, which are open at the top, floating out into the open air. Under each dome there is a separate tiled area that can be rented out, either by individuals or groups.

In Georgia, bathing is more than a mere exercise in cleansing: it is also a social event. People like to drink a glass of wine in the bath area in the evening or at night, taking a moment to sing and exchange the latest gossip. Between the bathing sessions you can have the old skin cells vigorously scrubbed off your body and a wash with a foamy ‘pillowcase’ or the “Georgian shower gel”, as the masseurs have nicknamed it. Each masseur has a special technique, which is passed on between colleagues in the bath, or shared within families.

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