Saunas in Finland

photo © Visit Finland

There is nothing that Finns have been so unanimous about as their sauna. This unanimity has remained unbroken for centuries and is sure to continue as long as there are children born in their native land, as long as the invitation still comes from the porch threshold in the evening twilight: ‘The sauna is ready.’
– Maila Talvio 1871-1951

The Finnish tradition of sauna has been practiced for around two thousand years and is deeply rooted in the nation’s way of life. It is an intrinsic part of the Finnish identity, as essentially Finnish as rye bread or sisu. Today there are over 2 million saunas in Finland, serving a population of 5.3 million.

The oldest known saunas were pits dug in a slope with heaped stones that were heated in one corner. Over time these developed into a four-cornered wooden hut with an earthen floor and a chimneyless stove, which served as both a primitive dwelling and a bath. While the stove was being heated the room filled with smoke which vanished after, leaving a dinstinct smoky smell. These old smoke saunas, or savusaunas, are coming back into fashion, and it estimated that there are over 500 currently in use in Finland. The next adaptation of the sauna was the addition of a chimney to the stove, followed by a stove that could be kept hot by continuous heating.