What it is: Once a week, Moroccans gather at communal bath houses to engage in a traditional full-body cleansing. A Hammam (or public bath), is a time-honored cleansing ritual practiced in Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Traditional Hammam services begin with relaxation in large steam rooms to open the pores. You are then covered with a coat of an olive oil product followed by "gommage" (another name for a full-body exfoliation). A heavy clay mask is applied to help release impurities and is then removed with a cold cloth mask to close pores. To complete the treatment, you are given a full body massage.
Sounds luxurious? It can be depending on where you go. A Hammam service at a high-end spa provides a truly indulgent experience, but local Hammams in Europe and Africa are a little rough-around-the-edges...so if you are a germ-a-phobe, ultra sensitive to modesty, or are obsessed with Western standards of sanitation it is probably best to enjoy this service at a spa.
Otherwise, the traditional communal bath houses that are frequented by locals provide a truly authentic experience. You will be surrounded by dead skin cells flowing across the floor, strangers scrubbing themselves in their skivvies, etc. The ceilings are pierced with small holes to allow in natural light, the walls permeate with steam from a wooded fire, the floors are crawling with gossiping locals, screaming children, and people lined upon the tiled walls. In other words — don't expect a serene experience — but do expect the softest skin of your adult life.
Where it is: Common in all neighborhoods of Marrakech, Morocco, these bath houses may be difficult for Westerners to find because they are labeled in Arabic. Look for squalls of people entering a public house with bathing tools.
Dress: These bathhouses are not usually attended in the nude (with the exception of children) — undergarments are typically worn. As in keeping with the modesty of the region, skimpy under-things are frowned upon. Women always cover wet hair upon leaving.
Sanitation: It is likely that your exfoliation will not be performed with new (or even sanitized) exfoliating gloves, so either bring your own or go to a spa. Stop by the souk (market) and pick up a small rinsing dish, "black soap," a "kiis" (exfoliating glove,) and a mat to sit on. This is a full bathing experience, so bring your other products and grooming supplies as well.
Cost: About $10 (USD)
Cautions: Be prepared to exercise respect and mindfulness of the actions of the locals while you partake in their ritual — i.e., follow their lead.
- Know when to rinse. Watch those around you.
- Brace yourself for the exfoliation, this is a heavy duty scrub that you have likely never experienced.
- Watch the water flow before choosing an area to sit — you could possibly land yourself in the direct flow of drainage.
- Taking more than two buckets of water in considered greedy.
- If you splash those around you with cold water, prepare to get a mouthful.