Traditional Moroccan hammams are bath houses Moroccans frequent to clean their bodies, purify their souls, and truly be themselves.
For every tourist coming to Morocco, visiting a traditional Moroccan hammam and experiencing the wide range of benefits is undoubtedly on their bucket list. While public bathhouses might be associated with Turkish and Roman cultures, the traditional Moroccan hammam is a unique experience.
Moroccan hammams take their inspiration from the first original bathhouses created by the Roman empire more than 2000 years ago, built to increase public hygiene. Roman’s rule over North Africa left its pronounced influence on Moroccan culture, seen in the architecture of Roman ruins still remaining across the country. Rome’s thumbprint in modern Morocco is most noticeable in the Moroccan hammam.
The ancient bathhouse rapidly grew in Islamic Moroccan culture with a few modifications that made it unique and different from others. Traditionally, Moroccan hammams are located near mosques to facilitate the purification of body and soul before prayers rituals.
The buildings are usually large. Most Moroccan hammams consist of three or four long rooms. These baths, however, don’t have pools like Turkish baths. Instead, bathers participate in the rituals in these large, tiled steam rooms Each room has a different temperature. Often they have vaulted, dome ceilings..
The Moroccan hammam quickly became a traditional, weekly ritual among Moroccans, especially since having a bathing room was not common in Moroccan houses. Another reason the traditional Moroccan hammam grew in popularity is that water is a very important symbol of purification and cleanliness in Islam.
Before visiting a traditional Moroccan hammam, you might be curious as to what it is exactly. What are the steps of the hammam experience? What are the benefits of the hammam and what products does one use during the bathing process?
This guide will help you learn more about the traditional bathhouse and everything you need to know before your first visit. Its aim is to help minimize any confusion you may have and allow you to live the unique experience to the fullest.
The traditional Moroccan hammam
On average, Moroccan men and women will bathe in a traditional hammam once a week, either alone or with their friends and family, to cleanse themselves, talk about life, socialize, and sometimes even make connections or new friends.
Hammams are usually two buildings that separate the women’s side from the men’s. This division makes it a safe space for bathers who dress in only their underwear in these wide, open spaces. Smaller hammams will schedule different hours for men and women if they don’t have separate facilities to accommodate everyone.
In contemporary Morocco, there are various types of hammams. There are the local, more traditional hammams frequented by Moroccan bathers. These are typically located in smaller towns, though sometimes you can find one in more popular neighborhoods in big cities. These are the hammams that Moroccans use on a regular basis as their public bathhouse.
More luxurious, spa-like hammams are found in major cities, often located within hotels. In these luxurious spa-hammams, you get the full experience of pampering.
Unlike a traditional hammam, someone assists you with all steps of the process in a spa-hammam. You can supplement your bath with spa treatments such as massages, mud baths, oils, and numerous other amenities to pamper yourself. When you’re done, sip on a glass of Moroccan mint tea in an inviting Moroccan salon.
A third type is a professional hammam, which is more upscale than a day-to-day hammam, less expensive than a luxurious one, and maintains the traditional bathing style of a Moroccan hammam.
Entry to a local, every-day hammam costs around MAD 10 to 20 ($1 – 2). Professional or spa-hammams can be much more expensive.
For a tourist’s first time in a Moroccan hammam, visiting a professional hammam is a good place to start for a traditional experience. An attendant will accompany and guide you through all of the steps the hammam experience, helping you avoid any faux pas or cultural shock, but still get the concept of a traditional hammam.
However, after your initial experience at a spa or professional hammam, you will not want to miss visiting a local, traditional hammam for a much more authentic experience in the Moroccan culture.
Hammam products and rituals
Once you are inside the hammam, you will undress in the changing room. Men usually bathe in their boxers, underwear, or swim shorts. Most women wear only their underwear or bikini bottoms to bath, though some opt to bathe completely nude.
After you change, you will leave your things in the changing room with the attendant who is responsible for guarding the clients’ possessions. To decrease any loss of valuables, no one brings cell phones, jewelry, or large sums of money to public hammams, leaving only their clothes and towels with the attendant.
While in the changing room, ask the attendant for water buckets that you will use inside the steaming rooms. You will bring along your normal shower toiletries as well as your Moroccan black soap and kees.
It’s also good to wear a pair of plastic sandals or flip flops. If you are in a spa-type hammam, they will provide you with the Moroccan hammam products without needing to bring your own.
A typical traditional Moroccan hammam will have three rooms that are increasing levels of heat. The first room is a warm room, though significantly cooler than the other. Here you can acclimate to the heat before moving into the next rooms. The second room is much warmer and the third room is very hot.
Many people opt to start in the hot room for a few minutes to breathe, relax, and allow their pores to open.
Each room has two or three faucets of hot and cold water. Bathers take turns filling their buckets. Fill yours to your desired bathing temperature, mixing water from the two facets.
Next, you will choose which room is comfortable for you to spend a lengthy amount of time to sit in while bathing yourself. There, you will coat yourself from head to toe with Moroccan black soap, also called soap beldi, made with natural soap and olive oil.
Allow yourself to relax for five minutes or more before you rinse thoroughly with warm water. The soap will work its magic to soften your skin and help with exfoliation.
The second important Moroccan product you will use is a kees, a soft glove that is similar to soft sandpaper. This glove will help you scrape and exfoliate your body and take off any dead skin. You will be amazed by how much dead skin you can remove.
If you are in a spa or professional hammam, your attendant will be responsible for taking care of the entire hammam process such as the application of products, exfoliation, and rinsing you.
In the traditional hammam, Moroccan women and men ask their friends or people sitting next to them to help scrub their back or the entire body. Some may hire a kessala (a person who scrubs visitors in the hammam).
If you feel like you need help exfoliating, don’t be shy to ask the person next to you to scrub your back. They may ask you to return the favor.
After the deep exfoliating process and a thorough rinse, you will wash your hair with your usual shampoo. Then it’s time for the third Moroccan product, which is the clay mask called ghassoul. Wait to use your conditioner until after this mask.
The clay mask is smothered all over the body, face, and hair for deep cleansing and wash. The product is 100% clay and rose water, suitable for any skin type. Ghassoul has many health benefits for the skin and hair, allowing them to be soft, supple, and shiny.
Moroccan women also use natural henna for softer and healthier skin. They scrub the henna into their skin and leave it for a few minutes before rinsing it off.
After your bath in a spa-hammam, you will be offered a massage with the famous Moroccan argan oil. The oil moisturizes your body, making it feel fresh and smooth like the skin of a newborn baby. In a traditional Moroccan hammam, you can apply your own oil in the changing room.
Benefits of Moroccan hammams
You can reap many benefits by visiting a traditional Moroccan hammam. From the inside out, you’ll feel like a new person after your bath.
Body and soul detox
The process of cleansing and purifying your body will help you relax internally. It calms the mind, allowing you to think more clearly, reduce any anxiety or stress that is built-up, and help you have a better sleep.
The process of exfoliating your body in the steamed rooms is almost like a deep massage. It’s a therapeutic experience that your skin and body benefit from, loosening any tight knots in the muscles, helping you to truly let go and relax.
Your skin will benefit from the many vitamins and minerals in the natural and traditional Moroccan hammam products. These products will nurture your skin, improve elasticity, and keep it fresh and revitalized. Beldi soap contains olive oil, meaning your skin will benefit from vitamin E and a high level of antioxidants. It is a deep cleanse for your skin, keeping it tight and young.
Fight acne and hydrate
Exfoliation, the removal of the dead skin, as well as the ghassoul helps unclog pores, allowing them to breathe. You will also reduce toxins from the skin, regulate skin oils, and help minimize scars and redness.
Visiting a traditional Moroccan hammam for the first time can be a confusing experience. Some might even find it embarrassing to be so naked in such a public space. However, a Moroccan hammam will definitely ease your travel stress while you soak in all the health benefits, so you can continue your travel in Morocco in the best shape possible.
Following this traditional Moroccan hammam guide will answer many of the questions you may have, help ease any confusion, and prepare you for an authentic hammam experience.