General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Nov 2017/5 Eagle
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Aztec codex image of temazcalli

Did the Aztecs invent the sauna?

Long before the Spanish reached Mexico most ordinary homes had a steam-bath attached to the side of the house, made of stone and cement, and vaguely igloo-like in shape (but a lot warmer!). (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

3 generations of temazcalli specialists!
3 generations of temazcalli specialists!

This temazcal(li) is still widely used in rural central and southern Mexico. The fireplace is outside the steam-bath itself, sharing a common wall with it. The heat of a fierce wooden fire eventually makes the bath wall glow.

Bundles of long grasses
Bundles of long grasses

The bather then creeps through the low, narrow entrance (made small to keep the heat in) into the bath area - enough room for two to sit comfortably. By throwing water onto the glowing wall the room fills with steam: the bath attendant (a woman) then “switches” (thwacks) the naked bather with bundles of long grasses.

Graciela outside a temazcalli
Graciela outside a temazcalli

The steam bath was used for three things: to clean, to “purify” (the soul) and sometimes to cure certain diseases. (Ian remembers greatly enjoying one as a volunteer on a Quaker summer workcamp in the Náhuatl-speaking village of San Isidro Buensuceso, between Puebla and Tlaxcala, in 1971!)

(Codex image from the Codex Magliabecchiano)
Photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

See a list and description of places offering a traditional temazcalli in Mexico today
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