Hammam is one of the famous things that comes to our mind once we think about visiting Morocco, Hammam is Arabic means "spreader of warmth" and it is a traditional cleaning ritual that many Moroccans take part of once a week, it is communal bath house where everyone goes for a relaxing steam bath, scrub down, massage(the massage and scrub are optional). A visit to a Moroccan hammam is a wonderful experience and one of the best ways to connect with Moroccans. The rules for taking a bath in a hammam are not written in stone, but here's a guide to the traditional way of doing it.
When and Why:
Your flip-flopped feet are thick with grime, your hair is full of dust and you’re looking for a respite from the vendor onslaught (“Come inside, just for looking!”) on the streets of Marrakesh. Escape the crowds and wash off the street funk Moroccan-style in the neighborhood hammam, or public baths. Along with the communal bakery, fountain, madrasa (school) and mosque, the hammam is one of five traditional elements found in every Moroccan neighborhood. For about two bucks you’ll get access to unlimited buckets of steaming water, a scrubdown that will leave your skin as soft as a newborn’s and a cultural experience you won’t soon forget.
How to find a hammam:
You will find public hammams in almost every town in Morocco, and in every neighborhood in the cities. Your hotel reception desk will know where to find a local hammam. Taxi drivers, waiters and people in the street will also be happy to give you directions.
The larger hammams have separate bathing rooms (and entrances) for men and women, some exclusively serve either gender. A third category have days of the week for men, and other days for women. You will not find "mixed" public hammams anywhere in Morocco.
Quite a few upscale hotels and riads offer private hammams to their guests. Some also allow non-guests to use their baths. While these private hammams are usually more elaborate and luxurious, they also tend to be much more expensive than public bathhouses, but here we are talking mainly about where locals go!?!
Hammam signs are likely to be written in Arabic, so ask locals / local friends , however; if you read Arabic, then the sign should be: حمام
and other signs should be:
- People of your gender walking by with buckets full of shower supplies, rolled floor mats and towels – men and women are separated in the hammam, with different opening hours for each throughout the day (typically, daytime hours are reserved for women and evenings for men).
- A smoky smell. It’s caused by the wood fires used to heat the water.
- A communal bakery. The hammam often shares heating facilities with one, so if you see a bakery there’s a chance a hammam is near.
What you need for the Hammam:
- Soap, conditioner, shampoo (anything you would normally use for a bath in your home).
- "Ghasoul" or "Rhassoul" is a lava clay that is used to scrub the skin.
- "Sabon beldi," a unique black olive oil soap.
- "Kiis" : (scrub glove) Part of the bath ritual is getting scrubbed down by the hammam attendant or by a friend – all depends on whether you have a friend who will scrub your back for you(everyone scrubs each other in the bathhouse – another cultural thing that would be out of place in Western culture for sure). A "Kiis" not Kiss;) costs about 10 to 15 MAD/1.00 to 1.50€ for a really good one in the souks / shops, paying more than 15 MAD/€1.50 is getting ripped off.
- Small, jug-style plastic bucket to pour water over your body.
- Plastic mat or stool (Optional) – some people don’t want to lie on the floor, even though you should wash the area you’re going to lie in … everyone does it. If you’re a clean freak, bring a small plastic stool or mat to sit on, but do know that you will look like an utter.
- Cloths; usually; Moroccans bring clean cloths to wear after the Hammam; bring a swimsuit or extra underwear. and make sure you don't forget to bring a towel with you!
When you enter a hammam, you pay the man at the front desk the entry fee and continue to the changing room. Here, you change into a swim suit or a piece of underwear. You leave your clothes on shelves in the room.
There is usually no locker-type storage available, but staff will keep an eye on your belongings. It's very rare for clothing or shoes to be stolen from a hammam, but you should not bring valuable items to a bathhouse (DON'T TAKE ANY VALUABLE THINGS WITH YOU).
The changing room often doubles as a place for people to rest after their bath. A lot of hammams serve coffee or tea in this room. So while changing, you will be surrounded by other guests. Be careful to wrap a towel around your waist as you change - full-frontal nudity is offensive.
Beyond the changing room are three areas separated by walls and connected by small openings in these walls. The first room is cool, the second room is warm and the third room is steaming hot (in some Hammams there are only 2 rooms besides the changing room = 3 in general; one is hot and the other is cooler).
The Hammam ritual:
After changing, the usual path through a hammam is:
- (1) Warm room
Here, you get your body accustomed to the heat in the hammam and you will collect hot and cold water in buckets (buckets and bowls are available at the Hammam – usually Moroccans take their own, but it is a preference). You can then mix the buckets for temperature and pour them over yourself as you wash. Don’t take more than two buckets for water as other bathers consider this bad form and a little greedy.
You use some of the water to clean the floor of the space you'll be sitting on. Then you wash a first time, but just superficially, to get rid of the basic dirt on your skin and in your hair.
- (2) Hot room
The heat in the hot room allows your pores to open wide and let your sweat out. This brings all the dirt out that's hidden in your pores and does wonders for your skin.Use the ghasoul all over your skin, this helps when you’re getting scrubbed after … it helps loosen skin and opens the pores.
How much time you spend in this room, depends on your tolerance for heat. You can use the water in your buckets to refresh from time to time, although most Moroccans leave their buckets in the warm room.
- (3) Warm room
You return to the warm room for a more thorough washing, using the Kiis scrub away the dead skin using hard pressure. No soap is required, and do not rinse until the skin is coming off. If you are alone, A fellow bather may offer to wash your back for you or you can ask someone to scrub your back, but do ask them to not rub too hard (say ‘shuya’) if you are not used to it, otherwise your friends can do it for you, or you can ask for the attendant to do it (obviously you will tip the person after you’re done)
Once you have scrubbed, wash with the soap and use the water from the bucket to rinse dirt off your body.
Wash your hair and, if required, shave. soap in completely, and rinse the last remaining dirt, soap and sweat off your body .When your bath is done, you carefully empty the remaining water from your buckets along the walls of the room.
- (4) Cold room
After your bath, you step into the cold room where there are benches where you can relax for a while and let your body get used to normal temperatures again.
Getting a massage:
Many hammams, but by far not all, have staff who can massage you. The more upscale (often private) hammams use scented oils for this. However in the more basic, public hammams, a fellow bather may offer to massage you. There's nothing suspicious about such an offer. It's a very kind gesture, usually without financial motives, although returning the favor is somewhat expected(doing the same or at least scrubbing the back).People with a bad back or other ailments would be wise to abstain from a massage. Even at the hand of a professional, a massage can be quite painful, although afterwards you'll feel as new.
Getting a massage is always an option, never compulsory.
There are a couple of things that you can do to upset Moroccans in a hammam.Wasting water is one of them. Water is scarce in Morocco and splashing it around in large quantities is considered imprudent and rude. Only use as much water as you need to wash and rinse.Even more seriously offensive is stripping completely naked in a hammam. There are no exceptions in men's bathhouses, but in some women's hammams people have reported Moroccan women going complete naked. Still, women tourists should only bare all when they see Moroccans doing it.Although hammams are basically for hygiene, they also have an important social function. This is especially true for more "traditional" women, who rarely leave their house except for a visit to the hammam. People like to chat in hammams, discussing the latest news and gossip.As a tourist, you may be quite an event in a public hammam. You will receive a lot of attention. Enjoy your special status - a hammam is a great place to get to know Moroccans. Don't be surprised if you're invited over for drinks or dinner.
When you want to leave Hammam after you put on your cloths it is appreciated if you say "Bseh'ha ou Raha" (something like for your health and relaxation) for people there...they will like it so much and they will answer back saying "Allah yatik seh'ha" (it means Allah give you good health).
A bath in a public hammam usually costs around 5 to 10 MAD (€0.50-1.00). Towels, soap and other toiletries may be available for a couple of dirhams.If you take a massage from one of the staff in a public hammam, you are expected to tip him 15 to 30 MAD (€1.50-3.00).As you leave the bathhouse, it's custom to tip the front desk attendant one or two dirham.
Hammams in hotels and riads ask up to 200 MAD for a bath. Some even charge such amounts to their hotel guests. Expect to pay another 200 MAD for a massage in such places.
Where & Why:
All towns and villages in Morocco will invariably have 5 community elements, and obviously the bigger the town, the more of each element you will find per village, town or city:
- Communal bakery : Typically, Moroccans will mix their own dough at home, and then take it to the bakery to be made. A typical loaf of bread, costs between 25-50 centimes (1/4 – 1/2 MAD); people go to that kind of bakeries not because they have no stoves at home but because the bread cooked in that kind of communal bakeries has a special taste, moreover; it is a very good opportunity for women to meet their friends and chat (gossip a little bit).
- Fountain : the Moroccans love their fountains … look at Fez … basically a fountain addiction.
- Madrasa (school) : the right place to learn and teach, basically holy Koran.
- Mosque : a place to pray .
- Hammam: (which in arabic means “spreader of warmth”) a traditional cleaning ritual that many Moroccans take part of once a week.