According to Wikipedia, Abanotubani is the ancient district of Tbilisi, Georgia, known for its sulfuric baths.
The bath district is located at the eastern bank of the Mtkvari River at the foot of Narikala fortress and across Metekhisubani. Abanotubani is an important historic part of the city – the place, where according to a legend the King of Iberia, Vakhtang Gorgasali’s falcon fell, leading to a discovery of the hot springs and, subsequently, to founding of a new capital.
Some claimed that Tbilisi was founded in the fifth century; the legend says that King Gorgasali was hunting for deer and shot one that fell into a hot sulphur spring. The deer strangely and miraculously healed and this is how the restorative powers of the sulphur springs were discovered.
The “Abanotubani” is the name given to the district in the Old Town of Tbilisi where there is a whole street (Abanos kucha) of public bathhouses that use the hot sulphurous waters (abano means “bath”, ubani means “district). The baths themselves are underground, but beehive-like domes are above the ground and now and again little blasts of steam spurt out of one of the vents in the domes.
The sulphur baths are much more a social and medical event than a spiritual one. There are no restrictions in bathing for mixed sex groups or couples. Furthermore, men may go naked and so more modest bathers may prefer to take a private bathing room.
The first time I was there back in July 2008 I had a private room and it was mine for few hours and I paid GEL 80/- (US$47/-). The private room had a separate dressing room, a TV, a leather sofa and a hanging area for clothes. It was my first time so I needed a private room, have some privacy and not to mix with the locals.
And for an extra fee I had a Kisa (body scrub) from a Mekise (Masseur) which they say it therapeutic because of the sulphur content of the water. The Mekise rubs your body with special sponge full of foamy soap and scrubs off the old skin with a glove that is similar with loofah.
The procedure started when I was told by the Mekise to lie down on my stomach on the massage bed that is made of marble (above photo). He started the massage and after few minutes he threw a bucket of sulphuric water that he fetches from that Jacuzzi like small pool. Then he started to put some soapy foam on my body and started to rub it with a cloth. Darn, he was roughed! If I can remember it right, it only lasted about 20-30 minutes and I paid about US$10/-.
Then I had a chance to go back in Tbilisi for another business trip and that was in May 2009. I went to that same place but I tried to use the public room just to experience it and not to spend more money just for a sulphur bath and a Kisa. If you are shy to walk around naked with strangers, this is not the place for you. At first I almost backed out but I said “what the heck, I’m here anyway” and my purpose is to have a therapeutic bath and a body scrub. Darn, the Mekise was rough again, (paging Georgian cutie girls). I can’t remember though how much I paid for the bath and for the Kisa.
After the bath, I was offered to have a cup of tea by the staff and started chatting with me. Where am I from, what I do in Tbilisi, etc…? After I got dressed and drank my tea, I was about to leave and one guy was charging me for the tea, I think I paid a dollar for that cup. I didn’t argue, I just thought that I am a foreigner so I paid. I don’t want to be mugged while I am there and not to mention I was there for some work.
Take note that if you are sensitive with a foreign smell then don’t come to this place. The Sulphur smell is not that pleasant, smells like a rotten egg but hey, the bath is an experience that you don’t want to miss.
Here are some of the photos of the in and out of the bath house:
(One of the staff that is so willing to give some smiles)
(The entrance of the bath house)
(Below those bee-hive roofs are bath house rooms)
(Part of the bath house district)
(The ceiling of the private room I occupied, made of ceramics)
(The walls of the private room I occupied, made of ceramics)
(The above photo is the front of the Bath House which is a park)
I guess that’s about it, until the next series of my travel in the Republic of Georgia.
By the way, bath Street is situated just past Gorgasalis Moedani on the south bank of the river near Metekhis Bridge.
Related Articles of my travel to Republic of Georgia: