These baths were initially meant to serve an entire neighborhood
Near Dostluq Cinema in Baku there is an abandoned building that used to be the neighborhood baths. It is one of the few surviving buildings from the Soviet-built quarter. But no one particularly laments its historical value.
This is not a traditional Azerbaijani hamam, but a building in the style of late Soviet constructivism, that went up in approximately the 1920-30s of the 20th century.
As with other clubs and ‘houses of sports’, there are no architectural ‘excesses’ or flamboyancy here – simply geometric shapes, reinforced with concrete and glass, and everything so that Soviet citizens could quickly wash themselves and go back to work. There was in those days an idea that the houses around the baths should become a neighborhood commune.
In the buildings that were built in the same period near the bath, there were often no bathrooms, so at first the demand for its services was very high. Moreover, soldiers from a military unit nearby also bathed here. And the neighborhood boys stole soap from the warehouse.
The peak of popularity of bathhouse number 21 was in the nineties, when there were interruptions in the water supply in Baku.
“I would wash here in the nineties, there was nowhere else to get clean. There were cockroaches running around your legs, sometimes you’d even see a rat”, says Samir.
And then the water supply improved: the old houses began to be demolished, and in their place went up modern high-rises. The bath turned out to be unnecessary and closed down. Perhaps it also closed down because it never became a social space, unlike the old baths of historic Baku, where for centuries people would go to talk with their neighbors, drink tea over a philosophical conversation and relax.