Hammam know-how


Does your on-the-road lifestyle have you dragging your feet? Depending on where you are in the world, there are some great therapeutic traditions to take advantage of to rejuvenate your weary travel fatigue.

On my recent travels through Morocco I had the pleasure of experiencing the languid therapy of the local Arabic hammams. Water has been used as a therapeutic element perhaps as long as history sprawls back into time. It is a powerful force.

The word “hammam” is derived from the Arabic root for “heat”, thus the hammam is more of a steam bath than anything else. The tradition hails from a time before proper plumbing could be found in Morocco, and people were obliged to attend their ablutions together in these public baths. Over time the hammam developed into a unique social ritual.

Hammams of varying luxury dot the more populated cities of Morocco, but for a more intimate and telling experience, I recommend opting for the baths that are frequented most by locals. But after you’ve chosen an hammam, what next? A visit to the local hammam can be a confusing foreign experience, especially if you don’t speak the local language. So here is a quick Hammam How-To, to take the edge off of the mystery.

  • Admission and all services are purchased at the desk when you walk in. A list of treatments and their prices are plainly displayed. In Morocco I never paid over the equivalent of 6euros for admission, or 20euros for the full treatment of services.
  • Hammam guests are typically given a towel, a larger and smaller pail, and a key to lock their clothes away. Some hammams are very basic, so it is advised to bring your own towel. You can purchase the typical black clove wax scrub, but these are easily found much cheaper throughout the medina. Lots of travelers simply bring their own favourite body scrub.
  • Take it off. All of it. No, really. Alright fine, you can leave your underwear on, but you may get a few odd looks.
  • Take your pail to the communal fountain and fill it with hot water.
  • Take a seat along the tiled benches that line the room and join the other women in a symphony of scrubbing and rinsing. Refill your pail with the scalding water as many times as you like. Enjoy the resulting steam. Alternatively, you can purchase a scrub, and an hammam attendant will scrub your flesh to rosy purity – you’ll sit for 30 minutes with the muddy mixture slicking your skin before you are rinsed with 100 pails of water.
  • Depending on the services you’ve purchased, the next treatment is a full body massage. The attendant will work from brow to toe with a loose honey balm before rinsing you thoroughly with warm water. The entire process is capped off with a shocking pail of icy water poured directly over the head.

A visit to the local hammam is not only a way to ease your tired bones, but it is also a sure way to plug yourself further into the local culture. In Morocco I was able to connect deeper with the local women through my trips to the hammams. Conversations couldn’t help but start as a woman slapped a bar of the spice scrub into my hands and gestured for me to lather her back. Yield yourself completely to the experience, and you may find yourself spending a long pleasant day chatting with the locals.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | February 1, 2010
Category: Travel Health

2 Responses to “Hammam know-how”

  1. David Says:

    I watched an arab movie called Asfour Stah.In that movie they used to take steam bath in a girls common room.I think that was Hammam.

  2. Travel-Writers-Exchange.com Says:

    A friend of mine visited a Hammam when she visited Morocco last year. She did get some stares because she kept her undergarments on rather than take them off. Travelers who are shy may opt out of this one 🙂