Hammam in Morocco: what you should know about these local baths
Going to a hammam in Morocco is one of the best ways to delve into the daily life of the country, since taking a bath in these facilities is an experience that Moroccans themselves carry out daily. Of course: you must be totally respectful of other people and comply with the rules of coexistence to integrate naturally with them. For this reason, on this page we tell you everything you need to know about the hammams in Morocco: their origin, their bathing ritual, their prices and their rules of conduct.
what is a hammam
A hammam, in Morocco and in most Arab countries, is a public bath for community use. Traditionally they have been used as hygiene spaces, in times when running water or hot water was not so common in homes. They have also had a religious use, as a way of performing ablutions or deep and purifying cleansing before prayer.
At present, its use is also related to aesthetics and body well-being, since it is steam baths and pools of water at different temperatures that achieve a relaxing effect on the people who undergo them. That is why this bathroom concept has become international and today it is possible to find it in the cities of many other countries, including non-Islamic ones.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that a hammam in Morocco also has an important social component: for centuries it has been one of the main meeting points between men and women (always separately), and they were used to chat in a relaxed and relaxed atmosphere.
This social component has been especially relevant in the case of women, since for a long time this was the only outlet allowed for them. Here, not only did they interact in a relaxed way with their friends, but the older women were also able to better gauge the physical state of the young women who might one day become the wives of their children.
Furthermore, hammams in Morocco have traditionally been a source of pride and prestige for a city: their level was valued based on the size and cleanliness of their bath(s).
A little history
The hammam is often referred to as a Turkish bath, but its origin does not exactly come from this country. You have to go back long before the appearance of Islam in the 7th century to find its direct precedent: we are talking about the Roman baths, which in turn were inspired by bathing rooms in Ancient Greece. From Rome they spread to the main cities of the Empire and, in this way, reached its eastern area, which after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was renamed the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in what is now Istanbul. This may explain why the term “Turkish bath” is used for these facilities.
What is certain is that the new Arab civilization knew about the practice of public baths in the Byzantine empire and assimilated them into their own daily life, being very common also in later times, such as during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
It should be said that the Roman baths had an operation very similar to the current hammam, based on pools with water at different temperatures. In these cases, they did not have a religious function, but they did have a hygienic, social and aesthetic function.
In the Roman baths there were mainly three aquatic spaces: frigidarium (cold water), tepidarium (warm water) and caldarium (hot water). Users walked through the pools in that order, but after reaching the caldarium they went back through the tepidarium again and ended up in the frigidarium.
In the case of the hammams in Morocco, as in the rest of the countries, the thermal contrast is maintained as the main axis of the ritual, but they are not always equipped with pools full of water in which to immerse themselves, but rooms with abundant steam and a temperature very different environment. In addition, in these rooms there are benches, taps and buckets so that it is the bather himself who applies the water and soap according to his own rhythm and resistance.
However, the privately managed hammams in Morocco often linked to hotels and riads, can have different pools with water, in which the bather can immerse himself and relax at a different pace.
What is the bath ritual
If we take a public hamam in Morocco as a reference,
the bathing ritual would be more or less as follows:
1 – You access the changing room, where you have to undress to make the subsequent tour of the hammam. In the case of men, it is usual to keep a short slip-type swimsuit. In the case of women, full nudity is more common, although before opting for this option it is better to make sure that it is allowed in the hammam. Otherwise, it will be wiser to keep the bikini bottom
2 – The hot room is accessed, which is the first. The objective here is for the body to acclimatize to the heat, since the temperature is really high. In this room you must take two buckets and fill them with water: one with cold water and one with hot water. Cold water is usually used to superficially clean the bench where the bather is going to sit. Hot water, on the other hand, is used for a first wash of the body, also superficial, with the aim of removing hair, lint, etc.
3 – You access the hot room, where the heat is even greater and the saturation of the environment is maximum, with relative humidity close to 100%. Here, the objective is to encourage the pores of the skin to open to cause sweating and the expulsion of toxins. Be careful: the temperature is very high and there is no stipulated residence time: it will depend on your tolerance to heat
4 – Return to the warm room, this time for a more thorough wash of both skin and hair. This is when soap and water from one bucket are used, while the water from the other bucket is used to rinse the body. Once this deeper cleaning is done, the water should be carefully disposed of on the wall of the room. At this time, it is customary to offer to wash another partner’s back, as it is the most difficult area to access. This offer is usually made with the intention that the other person returns the gesture and receives the same favor.
5 – The cold room is accessed, where the bath ritual ends. Most of the hammams in Morocco tend to have showers here for a final rinse and to permanently remove the remains of sweat. They also usually have benches to sit on, as it is common to rest here for a while quietly so that the body gets used to normality again.
6 – As an optional step, after the bath it is possible to enjoy a massage that, due to its peculiarity, we explain in the following section
The final massage in the hammams of Morocco
As we said, it is possible to request a massage as the final stage of your experience in a Moroccan hammam. But it should be said that it is not a massage like those you can find in a spa: people with sensitive bodies may even consider it a painful massage while receiving it, although at its conclusion you will feel an intense sensation of relief and relaxation.
It is an exfoliating massage, since it is performed with a special sponge or mitt, and a specific type of soap is used for this moment: black or beldi soap, with black olive oil that gives off a very characteristic aroma. You must be aware that the masseur will apply some force on the skin.
Normally, this massage is carried out by the staff of the hammam itself, always of the same sex, although it may happen that another user of the bath offers to do it. Again, you should consider this a selfless gesture from a financial point of view, although he probably does expect another similar massage from you.
Where to enjoy a hammam in Morocco
It is very easy to find a hammam in Morocco, since in the big cities there is usually at least one for each neighborhood. Also, smaller towns often have one for their citizens as well, although they often don’t advertise much. If your intention is to go to one of them to live a 100% local experience, ask the staff of our agency for advice, who will know how to point you to one that meets your expectations.
It will be easier, although more expensive, for you to access a private hammam in Morocco. Many are the hotels and riads that have this type of bathroom in their facilities. They can reserve their access exclusively to their guests, but they can also open it to other people not staying at their establishment, upon payment of an entry. In this case, we also advise you to ask our staff for advice, and if you wish to book it in advance, we will include this service in your travel package.
If you are going to visit Morocco on a combined trip with Andalusia, in this Spanish autonomous community you will also find hammams focused on well-being and relaxation. Our Andalucía Exclusiva agency will be able to book this experience for you in cities like Córdoba, Granada or Seville, which is a good example of the rich Islamic legacy that is still appreciated in them.
Prices of a hammam in Morocco
The prices of hammams in Morocco depend on the type of bath you visit and the services you require. The price of a public hammam is really cheap, in many cases as little as 20 dirhams if the admission includes only the visit to the bath.. On the other hand, if the final massage is requested, the rate can go up to 60 or 70 dirhams. You should also consider 10 dirhams or more if you need hygiene products, such as soap or a towel. And when leaving, it is customary to leave a tip of several dirhams to the hammam employee, as a way of thanking them for cleaning the space and its daily management.
For their part, private hammams are available at a higher price, since they have a more exclusive character and are oriented towards the world of aesthetics and well-being, and not so much towards personal hygiene.
How to behave in a Moroccan hammam
In order for your experience in a Moroccan hammam to be pleasant (especially if it is a public bath attended by local citizens), you must respect some minimum standards of behavior. These are some of them:
• If you’re a man, keep a brief-type swimsuit on while bathing. If you’re a woman, don’t get fully naked if no one around you has. In that case, keep the bikini bottom
If someone offers to wash your back, accept it naturally, as it is a common gesture. In that case, return the gesture and do the same with the person who washed your back.
• If someone offers to give you the final massage but you have no intention of receiving it, decline the offer with respect, ease and a smile.
• Leave a tip to the staff in charge of cleaning and managing the hammam. In Morocco it is a gesture of education and gratitude to these workers
• Take a mat to sit on on the benches in each room, if you think that the cleanliness of the space is not entirely good
• Do not put your feet in the buckets that are filled with water for cleaning and rinsing the body
• Do not sit on those same cubes, not even turning them upside down as a seat
Speak quietly if you have to communicate with someone in the room. Remember that it is a time of relaxation for other people, so excessive noise can disturb the rest of the bathers
Respecting these rules and any other common sense rules, your bath in a Moroccan hammam will be a pleasant and unforgettable experience. Undoubtedly, an unbeatable plan to end an intense day of sightseeing around the city and a perfect way to relax your body before going to your room to rest.