I have never found a spa treatment I haven’t liked, so when I heard about the Moroccan hammam, I figured, why not? Then I started looking into it further and frankly, some of the descriptions I read were bordering on alarming.
Scalding hot water and painful scrubbing. Was this the spa I was going to forgo? Or was it going to become my new favorite? Read more to find out!
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The History of the Moroccan Hammam
Back when homes didn’t have public water, a hammam, or a bathhouse, was where people went weekly to clean. Traditionally, this was a building with three connecting rooms: a hot/steam room, a warm room for bathing, and a cold room for rinsing prior to leaving.
Hammams played a cultural role as well and became a place for social gatherings where people would catch up on their weeks and socialize with friends.
Though there are some minor differences, Moroccan hammams are very similar to the Roman baths and Turkish hammams. So, if you have done one already, you will generally be familiar with the experience though there is some variation.
There are also public hammams, like the hammam in the Hassan II Mosque. These are designed for cleaning hands and feet before praying in the mosque and they are a bit different than the hammam I’m talking about.
Moroccan Hammam Experience
You may sometimes hear this experience called a Moroccan bath, a Moroccan spa, or even a Moroccan bath spa. Though you’ll find different places offer different services as part of their Maroccan hammam, it’s all largely the same experience.
A Moroccan bath experience is a luxury today and worth trying when you visit Morocco. Just like with other types of spa treatments, Moroccan bath benefits include improved circulation and blood flow. It feels good and it’s good for you.
Men and women are taken into separate rooms in a hammam. It’s interesting, as Muslim women tend to dress very modestly outside of the hammam.
However, inside, you will find no such modesty. You will find everyone almost completely nude, with the exception of a tiny disposable paper thong.
It’s important to know before you go that you will need to leave your inhibitions at the door. It’s not a time for modesty—just jump right in and go with it and you’re in for an interesting and soothing experience.
And the same goes for the massage even if you don’t do the steam room first. You will generally be provided with a tiny disposable thong and that is it. Your massage will be done completely nude with no sheet covering you.
Traditional Moroccan Hammam
There are still traditional Moroccan hammams where you will find the traditional set-up with the multiple rooms with different temperatures.
When you enter, you get a bucket, a mat to lay on, some black soap, an exfoliating glove (or you can bring your own). You have the option to pay someone to scrub and bathe you or you can do it yourself.
Many hotels and spas offer a rendition of this experience, and it depends where you go what you will find. For example, in a hotel we stayed at in Fes, when we were checking in they showed us their hammam. It was a large steam room with benches.
Depending on your comfort level, you can certainly request a smaller and more private room to see if they can accommodate. Though, I’m guessing that’s not what most offer. We were told you can wear your bathing suit or choose not to.
My Moroccan Hammam Experience
My friend and I decided to go to a Moroccan hammam in Marrakech close to our hotel called Spa Saint Tropez.
I tend to research things like crazy. However, for some reason, I just went with my gut on this one and we walked right in.
We went up the stairs where we were greeted by someone who spoke very limited English and only French. (A language I have absolutely no skill with). She handed us a menu and we chose our treatment, a hammam sauna and a one-hour massage for 600 DH ($62 USD).
Two different women took us back outside and walked us to the next building down. We got into a tiny elevator, and got out at a place where a sign above the front desk said “Les Secrets du Sens Hammam & Spa.” Interesting.
The women led us to a small room with benches and lockers. They handed us thick white robes, thick plastic sandals, and a teeny tiny paper thong.
My friend and I joked that we were going to get to know each other at a whole new level during this experience. Little did we know how true that would be!
We were led to another small room where we could barely see inside from the steam. There was a large sink in the corner and a bucket of water with a large scoop. The women indicated that we should remove our robes and lay facedown on the bench that ran the length of the room, feet-to-feet.
I started to ease into the warmth and steam in the room. Then a large scoop of very hot water was poured over me.
I knew to prepare myself for it, but was a bit zonked from the steam and had momentarily forgotten. It was a bit of a shock.
I was better prepared for the second, third, and fourth scoop. She then spread all over my backside a black salt paste, which was surprisingly smooth and I didn’t feel the salt at all. I was told to flip and she repeated the process.
This was followed by a rinse from the water scoop in the bucket then soap and rinse. Next was the scrub.
My friend and I had actually purchased the mitts in the markets ($1 USD) as we had been told we may need to. However, they were provided. It is incredibly rough and this felt really good but bordered on painful, especially in certain more sensitive areas.
I’m pretty sure at least two layers of skin were removed that day. The scrub felt like a sheet of sandpaper running over my body. And they take this very seriously!
The scrub was followed by another rinse and musk oil. Each rinse became progressively slightly cooler and the last was bordering on cold and I jumped.
Last, she shampooed my hair, which I wasn’t prepared for. When she dumped the scoop of water over my head, I heartily breathed it in and regretted it immediately!
It felt really good, though, after I stopped coughing and wheezing. She shampooed my hair a second time and I was done.
All the while, my friend was getting the same treatment on the same bench from another woman.
The Moroccan Hammam Massage
The woman indicated that I should stand and she put the robe on me and got the sandals and led me from the room to another where there were two massage tables. My friend and I enjoyed the massage experience together as well.
First, she laid the robe over me and then left the room for a good ten minutes. We weren’t quite sure what to do but decided to just lay there comfortably.
When she came back, she removed the robe and began her work kneading my muscles. My experience with beds in Morocco is that the pillows are extremely high (a good six or more inches at some of the places), so my neck and back were sore and I looked forward to the massage.
It was good overall, but my friend and I both commented that it was a bit different from massages we have gotten elsewhere.
First, neither of the women tried to work out knots that they found. They simply moved on and continued with the massage. And second, the massage wasn’t necessarily even. Usually, if a masseuse does 10 strokes on one side she will do the same on the other side. Neither of us found this to be how they did it.
Even still, a massage is a massage and it was good. My only real complaint is that the door was partially open. Not only were people coming in and out during the massage and the steam. We could hear the phone very loudly so it wasn’t as relaxing as it might be.
We may have gotten a private couples room, but our experience was every bit the large group hammam experience!
Impressions and Recommendations
It was interesting to both of us that for a culture where the women are traditionally and historically so modest in their dress when it comes to the hamam, there are no such reservations.
There is not an inch of our bodies that were not scrubbed and washed during the hamam and the massage included everything except the tiny strip covered by the teeny paper thong.
Overall it was a pleasant and only slightly uncomfortable experience. And yes, my friend and I did get to know each other on a whole new level through the process!
I felt a bit like a wet fish flopping around on the bench as we had to flop back and forth for the three different treatments on our backsides then our fronts. I was a little curious why we didn’t just sit up where they could reach most of us.
Though, overall, it was an interesting and relaxing experience and one I’d recommend. I’ll be going to the Middle East next year and I plan to do it again.
Be prepared to be left alone for some periods of time not knowing what to do. Your attendant will eventually guide you where you need to go.
Hammam at Other Places
As I mentioned, our hotel in Fes offered us the hamam menu and gave us a tour of the facilities. It’s a popular service to offer. That was a larger group room for the steam, and I assume for the cleansing process as well.
Then people apparently were expected to walk through the lobby in their bathrobes as the massage area was in another corner tucked behind the front desk.
We chose to get a massage there and not do the hammam, where we had our first example of the modesty of Moroccan women behind closed doors. 🙂 We were handed the same little paper thong and we were not covered by a sheet at any time as western massages are done.
It may be that we got a westernized version, especially from reading other reviews I saw from other bloggers.
So, Will You Try a Moroccan Hammam?
Getting a Moroccan spa, or hammam is a welcoming a time-honored tradition and something I’d recommend doing when you visit. It’s an interesting experience and quite relaxing once you lean into it.
Give it a try. It’s definitely not something you will ever do in most countries. Comment below and tell me what you think if you’ve had one!
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