Les Bains Douches, the public bathhouses, were an integral part of life in Paris in the 19th and 20th century. Even today.
In 1960 there were 160 free bathhouses in the 20 arrondissements, now there are 17 and still free.
Why? Plumbing didn't come with buildings, as they do now. The water sources came from the communal courtyard pumps or public fountains.
In those days one relied on servants or water carriers or your own shoulders to bring water up flights of stairs.
Even now you'll find the former maid's rooms, usually on the fifth floor, turned into studios or apartment but without bathrooms.
Not so long ago, accommodation for the working class was for sleeping - cafe's for drinking and socializing, bouillons or canteens (local communal restaurants or bistros) where people ate since they didn't have a kitchen and life was lived in the quartier. Today some of the bath houses have become hammams and even night clubs.
When I lived in Tokyo for a year, going to the bathhouse - 'ofuro' - was part of my daily routine.
In my apartment - in the gaijin, foreign, ghetto - we had no bathroom. So every evening it was around the block up the street and to the bathhouse before the train station. Instead of viewing it as a pain, I loved it after I got over the shock of women, kids all soaping up, squatting, rinsing, then dipping into the hot steaming tub and chatting with my neighbors. On winter nights, you couldn't beat it for warming up.
Cara - Tuesday