These hammam spa tips will help you navigate your first Turkish bath anywhere in the world. If you can survive a Moroccan Hammam, you can survive any hammam. While traveling in Morocco we went on a walking tour of the Medina (the old city) in Marrakech. When walking by a hammam, the owner invited us in to check out his spa.
He seemed like a nice guy, so we went in for a look, and it was very nice. So we went back the next day and booked our very first Hammam experience ever. What you are going to read is what traditional Turkish baths are like. This isn’t like a spa in downtown Toronto at the Four Seasons, this is a public bath in the middle of the old city. Once you know ritual of what to do in one of these public baths, you’ll have no problem in any spa around the world.
Hammam Spa Tips
Once we got inside the traditional hammam on this small street in the middle of the Medina, we had second thoughts. What were we thinking? We didn’t even know what a hammam was. And we definitely had no clue what the Hammam etiquette was at one of these things.
Going to any old Hammam on the street in Morocco isn’t an easy experience. It’s not like a luxury hotel in North America or the Caribbean where you can ask questions and they walk you through with kid gloves. It’s not like a five-star hotel in the Middle East where everything is meticulous. Instead, you are on your own to figure it out. Nobody tells you what to do. But we are here to keep you from making the same mistakes that we did. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready to duck into an authentic Hammam in Morocco.
What is a Hammam?
A Hammam is a hot steam bath followed by scrubbing and cleaning and then ending with a massage. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a little more to visiting a Hammam than that.
Each hammam will vary a bit in Morocco, but for the most part, you will expect to go through a similar hammam ritual of bathing, scrubbing, massage, and showers.
A Moroccan massage also known as a Hammam massage is very similar to a Turkish bath experience. You are bent, prodded, and scraped from head to toe. You are engulfed in steam and at times you are very confused. In other places, hammams are more relaxed and softer, but a Morrocan hammam is all business with a very rigorous massage and even more rigorous bathing.
History of the Hammam
Hammams have been an integral part of Moroccan society for centuries, with their origins going back to the Roman era. When Romans established settlements in Morocco, they built bathhouses that combined their bathing traditions with the local culture.
In the 7th century, Islamic culture significantly influenced the development of the hammam in Morocco. Ritual purity is an important aspect of Islam, and hammams provided a space for people to cleanse themselves both physically and spiritually. During this time, the hammam evolved to incorporate various features such as steam rooms and cold plunge pools.
Beyond being a place for cleansing, the hammam also played a central role in Moroccan social life. It was a space for relaxation, socializing, and even conducting business. Hammams were often attached to mosques, reflecting their spiritual significance. For women, in particular, the hammam was a rare space where they could socialize freely, outside the constraints of the home.
Today, hammams remain an essential part of Moroccan culture, though there is a diversity in terms of the facilities and services they offer. While many locals continue to visit traditional neighborhood hammams, there are also more upscale hammams that cater to tourists looking for a luxury spa experience.
Our Hammam Massage in Marrakech
Dave and I took part in a traditional hammam. At the beginning of our hammam ritual, we were each led into separate rooms to begin our 90-minute hammam experience. Dave went to the men’s part of the building and I was sent to the women’s. Hammams are not co-ed.
I followed a petite woman who spoke little English to a changing room where I was given disposable underwear, a towel, a robe, and some rubber slippers. She sat me down in a booth and left the room. For a very long time.
Waiting for my Hammam
I didn’t know if I was to follow he after I changed or not. As the confusion set in on my face, a friendly group of women from Malaysia (who had just finished their hammam) told me what to do.
“No time to be shy in here.” They said with a smile.
“Strip down, sit down and wait. Oh and don’t put on that robe, that’s for later.”
So I sat naked (save for my disposable black underwear and rubber shoes) in my cubicle and waited.
- We’ve had our share of strange spa experiences, check out our Ayurvedic Massage in Alleppey
Separate Hammam for Men and Women
Dave followed a guy into another room where he was given a loincloth. He indicated that Dave should strip down while he stood and watched and then proceeded to put the loincloth on for him. If that wasn’t awkward enough, the door to reception was open the entire time!
In a couple of minutes, he was wrapped up and ready to go. Dave was sent through a door where he was greeted by a wall of steam. It was here that he did his own waiting for his next instructions.
Note: “No cameras allowed in Hammam, there naked people inside” So, the only photos you will see here are from reception and the waiting rooms.
Deb’s Hammam Spa Experience
After sitting alone in my cubicle (the Malaysian women had long gone) for what seemed like forever, a woman came in and took my hand. She led me to a stool and sat me down where I was given a bath.
The first part of the hammam experience involves cleansing the body. Scorching hot water was poured over my head as she washed my hair and body. I winced and sighed, but she didn’t seem to care or take any notice.
She gave me a full body scrub as she sloughed away my dead skin. It seemed to go on forever as I sat there in uncomfortable silence as she scrubbed away using her special black soap and shampoo. I was relieved when she finished and began to rinse away the suds with warm water.
After my grime was washed away, (but it seemed that a lot of soap was still sticking to my skin) I was taken by the hand by another woman who led me to the steam room. She pointed to a corner where I was to sit, and it was here that I stayed until my next order was given.
Inside the Steam Room
The steam room was hotter than any other steam room I’ve ever been in and as I took deep breaths to try to relax, I also took deep breaths to try to keep myself from bolting out the door. And then I waited forever not knowing what to do. But, like a good patron, I didn’t move until I was told by the attendant.
I have since learned that the hot steam promotes circulation and cleans out the toxins in the body. I understand that completely, but this steam room was so hot, I wasn’t sure if it was doing its job or simply boiling me to a slow death.
- Looking for other things to do in Marrakech? Check out these Amazing Things to do in Marrakech, Morocco
Dave had a similar experience of standing awkwardly while he waited, but instead of a cubicle, it was in a steamy room full of massage tables. He stood half-naked in his loin-cloth with a stunned look on his face before he was saved and finally lead to his own steam room.
Traditional Hammams Start with a Bath
It turns out that Dave had to clean himself instead of being bathed like me. He was handed some black soap and motioned to rub it all over his body.
Dave obeyed and covered himself in black soap thinking someone would be back. But they never came. He sat in the steam for another 10 minutes or so as the soap seeped into his pores. “Was I supposed to do this?” he wondered. “Can anybody tell me what’s going on?”
Back to Deb’s Hammam
In the meantime after sitting in the steam for what felt like forever during my hammam, I finally let my mind and muscles relax. I was feeling pretty good. When I saw a faint shadow enter the room of steam, I knew that it was time to go.
Body Exfoliation is Part of the Hammam Massage
I was led out by my hand and was laid down on a marble slab located around a fountain in another hot room where my body was exfoliated. When I say exfoliated, that’s an understatement. It’s more like having your skin peeled off with sandpaper. At one point I was sure that there was a trickle of blood pouring down my leg as she rubbed up and down my calf. But apparently I had it better than Dave in my Hammam experience.
I didn’t have it half as bad as Dave’s hammam. When they finally came to get him, he was led in his loincloth, to a plastic massage table where he was sanded and scrubbed and slapped around like a wet fish until there wasn’t a scale left on his body.
The male masseurs are tougher on the guys. Dave’s skin was stinging as they constantly poured hot water over his body. He was alarmed when he opened his eyes and saw his skin peeling away. Could there be that many layers coming off or is it just the soap? It’s better to close your eyes and pretend you didn’t see anything.
Soon enough, you’ll be sitting pretty and enjoying the moment you’ve been waiting for. The Massage.
The Strange Moroccan Massage in the Hammam
I was still walking around half-naked with nothing but my disposable underwear and rubber shoes and Dave was still wrapped up in his loincloth but things were winding down.
After the steam room, the scrubbing on the marble slabs and the confusion of being wasted and bathed, it was finally time to get our aching muscles worked on. It was the moment I was looking forward to. My very first Moroccan massage.
I was led to yet another room by the attendant where I was placed on a massage table made of slippery plastic. I had a half-hour massage that was on the one hand very relaxing and on the other quite uncomfortable.
The woman kept massaging my breasts. It seemed that with each pass of whichever body part she was massaging, she always made her way to my boobs. “Is she supposed to massage my breasts?“
All I could think was “That’s funny, I didn’t think that my boobies held a lot of tension.” But I just laid there and went with it.
I was expecting a much rougher experience, but it was more like a light full body rub down. I grew frustrated because I really wanted my shoulders and back kneaded out, but it never happened. Instead, she just kept lightly stroking and caressing my body. After the vigorous wash, I was expecting a deep tissue massage.
Dave’s More Painful Hammam Treatment
I was so jealous when I talked to Dave and he told me that his massage was a killer. He was bent and pulled every which way in positions he didn’t even know his body was capable of.
He came out a good 15 minutes later than me with a big grin on his face saying his favorite phrase when he loves something “That Was Awesome!“
The awkward moments, the hot steam, and the painful soap of the hammam paid off for Dave. His muscles were loose, his mind was relaxed and he had an experience that he’d never forget. And maybe never try again. But when you go to Morocco, you’d be crazy not to go to a hammam.
The Hammam ritual ended in a relaxation room where we were served mint tea and had the time to reflect on the entire experience.
Traditional Hammam vs Modern Hammam
This was as much of a traditional hammam as you can get. It was almost like stepping back in time and we are so glad that we did it. If you find yourself in Morroco or Turkey, make sure to visit a local hammam for a real experience. The public hammam will be very different from what you will find in your hotel, but it will give you memories to last a lifetime.
A hammam is a spa experience that starts in a steam room followed by an exfoliating bath and a Turkish massage.
When visiting a hammam, you strip naked. Hammams supply a small towel (or in our case, a loin cloth for Dave and plastic underwear for Deb) to wrap yourself in.
Yes, you tip at a hammam. Expect to tip 10-20 percent of what you paid for the massage.
We suggest that you do not wear a bathing suit in a hammam. You will be scrubbed with soap and minerals and you won’t want to ruin your swimwear.
When visiting a traditional hammam in Morroco, do not bring any valuables. Many do not have lockers so you will just be leaving your things in a stall. If you are attending a more upscale hammam at a hotel you can bring whatever you like. Otherwise, Hammams provide everything you need from mats to buckets, black soap to shampoo, and towels.
The name of the Hammam in Marrakech that we stumbled across as we wove through the Medina was Hammam Ziani and you can find out how to get there and experience your own hammam.
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