When many Westerners imagine bathhouses, they think about Rome and Greece, but many countries across Europe had bathhouse traditions throughout their history. Russia isn’t an exception, and one of the most amazing bathhouses in Europe can be found in Moscow. We’re talking about the Sandunovsky banya, a true marvel of history, architecture, and engineering.
The Sanduny, which is the shortened form of the building’s full name, was built in the early 19th century and first used by the Russian public in 1808. It took 8 years to go from the purchase of the land to its opening day, which suggests how monumental the design and construction process was. A special aqueduct had to be manufactured to help bring water from the Moscow River to the bathhouse.
The name comes from its founder, a Georgian actor and businessman named Sila Sandunov. Sandunov was 44 years old when he bought the land with the money he made with the help of his position in the court of Russian ruler Catherine the second.
Sandunov wasn’t just an actor; he was a businessman with a keen eye for investment opportunities. Many of Moscow’s greatest public baths had been destroyed by a fire in the 1930s, and even half a century later there still wasn’t a proper stone bathhouse in the city. So Sila decided to create the first bathhouse made from stone in Moscow. But the building material was just one innovation! He also had the building divided into male and female sections so that guests could enjoy greater comfort and privacy in accordance with changing norms.
The Sanduny was a popular Moscow destination in the decades after its founding, but it only became the veritable palace it is today after it was purchased by a wealthy Russian family in the 1890s. Vera Firsanova and A.N. Gonetskiy had the Sanduny overhauled and upgraded to transform it from a functional building into a monument of Russian opulence.
Russia has undergone many changes in the 210 years since the Sanduny was opened, but the building itself stands as a living slice of Russian history. That’s right; this isn’t just a museum, it’s a working bathhouse. You can enjoy the Saduny like a museum but to get the real experience you need to experience a true parenie and venik, or steam and flog.
That’s right, a steam and flog. If you are committed to experiencing the Sanduny like a real Russian you need to be prepared to get smacked with the branches of a birch tree. But don’t worry, it’s not as painful as it sounds. It’s just to get the blood flowing and help to purify your body.
Even if you don’t feel up to a full bath experience, there are still plenty of things to enjoy at the Sandury. The Sandury has a restaurant, hosts guided tours, and even hotel rooms for people who want to spend a night in one of Moscow’s most historic neighborhood.
No matter what you’re interested in, you’re sure to find something wonderful at the Sandunóvskie Baths.