What is a hammam?
Hammams are public bathhouses where people go to purify their body and soul, often before prayer. This is why in Islamic countries like Morocco, many hammams were built near mosques. In the time before private plumbing, they also provided general hygiene.
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Hammams usually consist of a few rooms of varying temperatures. A hot room is where most of the bathing treatment is done, while a cool room is used for cooling down and rinsing off after treatment. In Moroccan hammams, black soap is used for cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing the body.
When did hammams originate?
The oldest archeological remains of these Islamic bathhouses date back to the 7th century. Their design is based on Roman bath houses, but adapted to meet the needs of religious purification. Women were excluded from hammams until the 10th century when gendered facilities were built. Hammams became one of the few private spaces women had apart from men.
While the public use of hammam has declined since the early 20th century, today they are still an important part of Moroccan culture, both for locals and tourists. Now there are two main types of hammams: public hammams and private hammams.
What is the difference between public and private hammams?
Public hammams are more traditional bath houses where people (typically locals) go for purification and socializing purposes. Public hammams usually cost less than $1 per person and patrons usually do the bathing process themselves or with a close friend or family members.
Private hammams, on the other hand, are a more luxurious (and expensive) experience. They often offer both spa services and hammam, with a staff member helping you with the process.
My Moroccan hammam experience
I opted to book a private hammam experience at Alphais Spa, located in the center of Marrakech. The treatment package I booked is called “Hammam 45 min with exfoliation and Ghasoul wrap + facial treatments + relaxing massage 1h.” Beforehand, I had no idea what to expect from a Moroccan hammam other than that I would be provided with disposable underwear.
When I arrived, I was brought to a changing room where I stripped down and put on the disposable underwear and a robe. I was then brought up a few flights of stairs into a private steam room after shedding my robe. The room was warm and moist, but not too hot. Then, I was instructed to lay down on a yoga mat and the hammam process began.
Over the next 45 minutes. I was rinsed, washed, and scrubbed with a few different products. Halfway through the session, the attendant scrubbed my body with Moroccan black soap then a few minutes later an exfoliating glove very rigorously. I watched as my dead skin was stripped from my body. This part was honestly pretty painful but in a good way. Once that was complete I was rinsed using buckets of water from a tub against the far wall. My hair was also shampooed and rinsed.
Feeling relaxed and smooth-skinned, I was provided my robe and taken to the massage then a facial, which were pretty similar to ones I’ve gotten at home. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was the level of facial exfoliation because my skin is somewhat sensitive (since I am on tretinoin).
My final thoughts
I found the hammam to be a really cool cultural experience. However, I did wish it was a bit more traditional and included going into different temperature rooms. Also, a few hours after I noticed the skin on my legs was pretty irritated, but this is probably because I have a bit of eczema that became exacerbated by the exfoliation.
I probably could have done without the massage and facial, because after the hammam I kind of wanted to go back to the hotel and get on with the day.
One piece of advice: if you feel very uncomfortable at the thought of a random person scrubbing you while you are basically naked, hammam might not be for you. Otherwise, I suggest giving hammam a try during your trip to Morocco!
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