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‘We are all here to heal’: Transylvania's mud bathers

In our new series, Emily Garthwaite tells the story behind her image of a woman relaxing in the mud at a former Romanian salt mine

From the Middle Ages until the early 20th century, the town of Turda in Transylvania, Romania, was famous for its salt mining industry. In 1932 the salt mines closed, leaving much of the community unemployed and the quarries derelict. In 2009 the European Union funded renovations to the salt quarries, with health spas opening soon after.

During the summer, elderly people in Turda can be found swimming in the water-filled quarries or bathing on the mudflats that surround them. The clay treatments are used to ease the effects of degenerative rheumatic conditions in preparation for the bitterly cold winter. Family members smooth mud across their relatives’ backs, and groups of women plaster themselves across the cracked earth as their muddy skin dries under the hot sun. Mud-encrusted wrinkles and body hair take on the same chocolatey texture, and despite the lack of colour there’s an incredible vibrancy in everyone’s sludgy grins.

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