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Hammam History: Can Tehran Save Its Vanishing Public Baths?

Praying in a hammam in Tehran
Praying in a hammam in Tehran

TEHRANThe 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.

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Geopolitics

Cilia Flores de Maduro, How Venezuela's First Lady Wields A Corrupt "Flower Shop" Of Power

Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, is one of the country's chief power brokers and a consummate wheeler-dealer who, with the help of relatives, runs a voracious enterprise dubbed the Flower Shop.

Photo of Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

Mauricio Rubio

-OpEd-

One of the clearest signs of tyranny in Venezuela has to be the pervasive nepotism and behind-the-scenes power enjoyed by President Nicolás Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores de Maduro.

In Venezuela, it's said that Flores works in the shadows but is somehow "always in the right place," with one commentator observing that she is constantly "surrounded by an extensive web of collaborators" — including relatives, with whom she has forged a clique often dubbed the floristería, or the "Flower Shop," which is thought to control every facet of Venezuelan politics.

She is certainly Venezuela's most powerful woman.

From modest origins, Flores is 68 years old and a lawyer by training. She began her ascent as defense attorney for the then lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chávez, who was jailed after his failed attempt at a coup d'état in 1992. She offered him her services and obtained his release, which won her his unstinting support for the rest of his life.

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