© 2011 Bryon

The Black Banya

More Russians have seen the yeti than have steamed in a black banya.

Black banyas are nearly extinct. They just barely exist. They are the truest link to the ancient Slavic steam baths of another millennium.

Black banyas are black because they do not have chimneys. Literally, they are black: the ceiling and interior walls are caked with soot, from smoke.

(see extensive photo gallery – and banya-related music! – at end of post)

These banyas without chimneys resemble dilapidated sheds, or huts. Their walls of logs or clapboard often slant, all but fall into themselves. Their roofs tend to be patched with whatever materials were at hand; sometimes the ceilings are merely sprinkled from above with soil, from which sprout grasses and wildflowers. Their floors of dirt, or rough-hewn planks, are commonly strewn with straw.

At best these banyas are prototypes of a simple peasant cottage with a low door, a small window, and two small rooms–one in which to steam, and another in which to wash.

The black banya is the great granddaddy of the banya.

And the banya is the most Russian thing of all.

As the Russian saying goes, “It’s better to see it once than to hear about it a hundred times.”

Listen to “Black Banya,” by Vladimir Vystotsky.

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  1. Krzysztof
    Posted February 16, 2015 at 6:23 AM | #

    I have been to black banya in north-eastern Poland, near Suwałki. The black banyas there have been brought by Russian Old Orthodox believers back in XVIIth century, escaping from religious conflicts in Russia.
    They have preserved the tradition and it is fantastic.
    I do not have much opportunity to use it often, but it is an unforgettable experience.

  2. Bryon
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 12:09 PM | #

    The second photo in this article from The Wall Street Journal — In Estonia, a “Scavenger Hunt” for People Who Love Saunas — is of a black banya (or sauna). The soot on the outside is from smoke that exited through the windows, and door, while the stove was being heated.

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