TEHRAN — The Iranian capital used to boast 1,400 public baths, which the daily Shargh observes were among its "main public spaces," an integral part of Iran's social culture and an efficient way of facilitating hygiene for the masses. Yet today, just 10% of the baths remain, in spite of the needs of thousands of day workers and informal migrants who come to Tehran with limited resources or lodging facilities.
Mehdi Sajjadi, head of the Tehran bathkeepers' union, told Shargh that public baths, sometimes known as hammams, have shuttered over the past 20 years in large part because of the expansion of gas piping, which facilitated water heating in homes and in turn led to a proliferation of private bathrooms. The removal of gas and water subsidies starting in 2001, as well as the rising cost of land, have also made maintaining such operations too expensive, Sajjadi said.
A member of the Tehran city council, Ahmad Hakimipur, told Shargh that the council was "ready" to back public baths as historical institutions, in principle at least. In places like Istanbul, public baths have evolved into tourist attractions. With the end of Iran's international isolation promising more foreign visitors, there may still be hope that Tehran's public baths will not get washed away for good.