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Moroccan Hammams were inspired by Roman
bathhouses created over 2,000 years ago and designed to increase public hygiene in
ancient times. The Roman influence can also be seen in Moroccan culture and
architecture, particularly within the traditional-built Moroccan Hammams. Moroccan
Hammams are public bathhouses for people to cleanse their bodies. The Hammam
is an essential part of Moroccan culture and in modern times also considered to
be a relaxing experience.
Originally within Moroccan culture, it was not common to have a room specific to bathing. With the arrival of Moroccan public Hammam, bathing became a weekly traditional ritual among locals. Water is a symbol of cleanliness and purification in Islam hence all neighborhoods in Morocco’s historic medinas, new cities, and even many villages in rural areas have traditional Hammams. The Hammams tend to be large and segregated with separate ones for men and women. Smaller Hammams schedule different hours of bathing time for men and women.
Today, the majority of Moroccans have their showers within their own home yet they still enjoy going to the public Hammam at least once a week. The Hammam involves an intensive scrub within an intensely heated room and a cleaning process that is best done outside of the home to obtain a complete bodily cleanse.
How does the entrance process to the Hammam work?
Public Hammams charge an entrance fee between 10 and 20 Dirhams per person. If you would like to be scrubbed by a "Keyyass or Kessal" (a masseur) it costs 50 Dirhams. In the Imperial Cities and at luxury accommodations there are high-end Hammams for tourists, spa-like with amenities. These upscale Hammams typically cost in the range of $20 - $30 for the complete experience.
What do I take to the Hammam?
It is important to take all your necessary toiletries to the Hammam such as "Sabon Beldi,” a traditional black soap made from olive ashes. It helps open the pores before exfoliation. Make sure to take a"Keess" (exfoliated hand glove) to scrub and exfoliate your body. It is important to bring your own towel and an additional undergarment to be used after the Hammam. For women, another important product to take to the Hammam is "Ghassoul," a 100% natural clay with rose water. The "Ghassoul" can be used for the body, face, and hair for deep cleansing and washing. Moroccan women also scrub Henna into their skin and leave it on for a few minutes before rinsing it off. The Henna helps soften the skin and leaves a glow.
Nudity in Moroccan Hammams
In Moroccan Hammams, men strip down to their underwear or wear boxer shorts whereas women tend to wear only their underwear or bikini bottoms. Some women opt to bathe in the Hammam completely nude. A Hammam is a private experience particularly for women and it tends to also be social as they may often bring their children to the Hammam.
What does a Moroccan Hammam Look Like?
Local Hammams consist of three or four large rooms. The Hammam does not have a pool like a Turkish bathhouse. Hammams, particularly those in the Medinas, often have magnificent Archies and zellige tiled walls given they may reside in former historic homes or other types of old dwellings that have been restored.
Upon entering a Hammam, a fee is paid, then bathers walk through a gate to access the first section. This first section is usually warm, but cooler than the other rooms. The second section is a warmer room with a medium level of heat. This is the room where most people bathe. The last section is a hot steamed room with a high temperature usually containing two different basins. One basin contains steaming hot water and the other basin contains cold water. The Hammam traditionally has a heated floor. Many bathers opt to start in the hot room for a few minutes to breathe, relax and allow their pores to open.
Bathers collect the water from the basins with a clean bucket, which is used only for that purpose. The bather then goes to one of the corners to begin the Hammam experience. In some Hammams each room has two or three faucets of hot and cold water. Bathers take turns filling their buckets by mixing the water from the faucets to get the preferred water temperature.
Things to Know About the Moroccan Hammam
A traditional Moroccan Hammam is not only a place to cleanse the body, but also a place to purify the soul, socialize, meet friends, conduct business, and sometimes even arrange marriages.
If you do not want to hire a "Keyyass" or "Kessal" (a masseur) to help with exfoliating, do not be shy about asking the person next to you to scrub your back. It is a common thing in Moroccan culture and that person may ask you to return the favor by scrubbing their back as well. It is not acceptable to waste water since water is considered sacred in Islam. Therefore faucets are turned off when not in use with water remaining in personal, large buckets accompanied by a large ladle to use for distribution of water.
Moroccan Weddings: Hammam Ritual
The Hammam ritual is the first day of a wedding celebration. The bride and her female relatives, neighbors, and friends go together to the Hammam. On this day the bride wears bright-colored traditional clothes and also white, which represents purity. The bride’s family usually rents a public Hammam privately for this type of private engagement Sometimes the bridal party will pay entrance fees and choose one of the corners of the Hammam and start the rituals.
The bride remains relaxed and is served by her female friends and family akin to a queen. They collect the warm water, wash her hair with "Ghassoul" (special clay mixed with herbs), scrub, massage, and perfume her body with lotions. At the end rose petals are soaked in the water to scent the bride's body. During this spiritual ritual, the women sing Moroccan songs in Arabic that welcome the bride to her new life creating an intimate and memorable experience.