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The Bagnio (1743), fifth in the Marriage à-la-mode series of satirical paintings by William Hogarth: The Earl catches his wife in the Turk's Head bagnio with her lover, who makes his escape through the window.

A bagnio (from Italian: bagno) was a term for a bath or bath-house. In England, it was originally used to name coffee houses which offered Turkish baths, but by 1740[1] it signified a boarding house where rooms could be hired with no questions asked, or a house of prostitution.[2]

The term was also used to refer to the prison for hostages in Constantinople, which was near the bath-house, and thereafter all the slave prisons in the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary regencies. The hostages of the pirates slept in the prisons at night, leaving during the day to work as laborers, galley slaves, or domestic servants.

The communication between master and slave and between slaves of different origins was made in Lingua Franca (also known as Sabir), a Mediterranean pidgin language with Romance and Arabic vocabulary.

The Slaves' Prison in Valletta, Malta, which was both a prison and a place where Muslim slaves slept at night, was also commonly known as the bagnio or bagno.[3]

Bagne became the French word for the prisons of the galley slaves in the French Navy; after galley service was abolished, the word continued to be used as a generic term in French for any hard labour prison. The last one in European France, the Bagne de Toulon, was closed in 1873.[citation needed]

The French penal colony on Devil's Island in French Guiana, which was not shut down until 1953, was also called a bagne, and features in the famous bestseller Papillon.

A well-known English brothel, the Turk's Head, labelled Bagnio (1787)

In fiction[edit]

El trato de Argel (Life in Algiers, 1580), Los baños de Argel (The Bagnios of Algiers, 1615), El gallardo español (The Gallard Spaniard, 1615) and La gran sultana (The Great Sultana, 1615) were four comedies by Miguel de Cervantes about the life of the galley slaves, called "caitiffs". Cervantes himself had been imprisoned in Algiers (1575–1580). His novel Don Quixote also features a subplot with the story of a caitiff (chapters 39-41 of the first part).

In The Day of the Locust (1939) by Nathanael West, Claude Estee's wife, Alice, says "Nothing like a good bagnio to set a fellow up." A bagnio, in reference to a brothel or boarding house, is also mentioned in The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) by James Hogg as the location of a quarrel between two young Edinburgh nobleman that precedes one of them being murdered and the other arrested for the crime.


  1. ^ "Marriage A-la-Mode: 5, The Bagnio". The National Gallery. 2006. Retrieved 4 June 2007. 
  2. ^ article from Saint Cloud (Minnesota) Journal, Thursday June 24, 1869.
  3. ^ Borg-Muscat, David (2001). "Prison life in Malta in the 18th century – Valletta's Gran Prigione" (PDF). Storja: 42. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 April 2016.