The art of the hammam (steam bath/bathhouse) is an ancient and integral part of Moroccan life as water, which is considered sacred, and cleanliness, are essential elements of Islam. In a part of the world where family and community are everything, the hammam is deeply rooted in everyday communal life. This is where people go to socialise, gossip, make connections, do business and even arrange marriages.
There are hammams throughout the medina; some are basic – a couple of small tiled rooms, announced by a faded ‘Sunsilk’ sign – and others are hundreds of years old and full of character, with great domed rooms heated by wood fires under the buildings and multi-coloured beams of sunlight filtering through stained glass into the steamy darkness within.
Spas with ‘traditional’ hammams are everywhere in Marrakech, but a visit to a local hammam is a completely different experience and one that illuminates a side of life you won’t see anywhere else. This is particularly so for women. For many, especially those who wear the veil, it is one of the only places where they can truly be themselves.
Entry to a local hammam (strictly segregated) is around 10dh. Leave your things in the changing room and take toiletries into the first ‘warm’ room. This is where you acclimatise to the heat and can collect buckets to fill with water – one cold and one hot. Once accustomed to the heat, move into the second ‘hot’ room to let your pores open and breathe. Move back to the warm room for your cleanse. This is where you coat yourself in oily black savon noir (traditional, 100 percent natural soap made from olive oil) and then use your hammam glove to scrape it – and several layers of your skin – off.
Purfiying ghassoul clay masks can also be smothered all over your body at this stage. In most hammams, you can have a massage and a gommage (scrub) done for you by an attendant for a few extra dirhams. If it all gets too much, just say ‘shwiya afak’ (gently, please). At the end of it all, you’ll look like and feel as good as a shiny newborn baby.
There are a few items you should take with you to a hammam: swimsuit or underwear, towel, shampoo, hammam ‘glove’, shaving cream and razor for men, flip-flops and savon noir (dark soap available by the scoop in spice shops).
Read more about the cultural features of Morocco in Insight Guides: Morocco
Insight Guide Morocco is illustrated with hundreds of specially commissioned photographs. Our inspirational Best of Morocco section picks out the highlights, ensuring you see the best the country has ...Read full description