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The Bathhouse (Casa de Banhos)

It was officially called the Grande Estabelecimento Balneário de Pernambuco (Great Bathing Resort of Pernambuco), however, as the public just called it the Bathhouse, that is how it was known.
 

The Bathhouse (Casa de Banhos)

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Last update: 04/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

It was founded in 1880, by Sir Carlos José de Medeiros, who was given authorisation by the government to build his residence on the reefs (which separate the ocean from the city of Recife), near the former Rotating Bridge.

Some time later, the owner decided to commercially develop the area, turning it into something other than his residence, namely a guesthouse and hospice for medical purposes.

It was a wooden and iron construction, and according to Mário Sette, reminded you of a ship without a mast, with its “cabin” windows, its terraced deck, on the river [Capibaribe], the other on the Atlântico [...]

It was officially called the Grande Estabelecimento Balneário de Pernambuco (Great Bathing Resort of Pernambuco), however, as the public just called it the Bathhouse, that is how it was known.

In 1902, it had five pools which enabled 350 people to use it at any time. There were 102 private compartments for a bather’s toilette, a large dining hall, two public rooms, a lecture room and other services.

The official advertising of the Bathhouse, in the early 20th century, says that the location combined hygiene and comfort, with accommodation for guests with illness, and that it charged a monthly rate, never above those of the top hotels in town.

It goes on to preach, citing numerous experiences through various types of disease, that a stay of one or two months at the establishment, with the use of the baths, was an excellent way to cure beriberi, convalescents, and fevers.

The location was very sought-after by foreigners, as much for the rest as for the salt baths in its natural pools beside the ocean.

The clothing worn in the pools and baths were made of baize (a fuzzy, woollen fabric similar to felt) and the shorts extended to the knees. A foreigner, one time, intended to go bathing in the Bathhouse wearing Speedos, causing such an uproar that the manager had to intervene “in the name of morality”.

The business prospered and was bought by Englishman Sydney Rodhes, who carried out improvements and innovations to the area, also increasing the prices. Because of this, in 1915, the then State Governor General Emídio Dantas Barreto stepped in, reformulating the first regulations of the Bathhouse, which dated back to 31 October 1895. He altered the article concerning the prices and produced another, which made it obligatory to provide free, daily baths for twenty sick, poor people from Santa Casa de Misericórdia do Recife.

At that time, which was the height of its fame, the Bathhouse become one of the most important meeting places form Pernambuco society, who flocked to its top-class restaurant, with English porcelain dishes stamped with its own monogram, foreign beverages and fine delicacies on its menu. The restaurant hosted many parties and Carnival balls, among which stands out the party thrown by sanitary doctor Amaury de Medeiros, in 1924.

Having become a tourist attraction for the city, the access to the Bathhouse was constant. Boats and launches made 13 daily trips, from 4:40am to 10pm, to transport the visitors.

At the end of the 1920s, after a period of decline, the Bathhouse, still under the ownership of Sydney Rodhes, was destroyed by a fire, despite being completely surrounded by water on all sides.


Recife, 24 July 2003.
(Updated on 25 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, January 2011.

 

sources consulted

CAVALCANTI, Carlos Bezerra. O Recife e seus bairros. Recife: Câmara Municipal, 1998. p. 27.

CAVALCANTI, Vanildo Bezerra. Recife do Corpo Santo. Recife: Conselho Municipal de Cultura, 1971. p. 287-291.

SETTE, Mário. A Casa de Banhos. Boletim do Porto e da Cidade do Recife, Recife, n. 2, ago. 1946. Não paginado.

SILVA, Luiz José da. Casa de Banhos nos arrecifes. Almanaque de Pernambuco, Recife, ano 4,  p. 17-21, 1902.
 

 

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. The Bathhouse (Casa de Banhos). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.