By RIMA AL-MUKHTAR, RIMA.ALMUKHTAR@ARABNEWS.COM
Hammam means “spreader of warmth” or “bathroom.” However, in particular, it refers to a traditional bathhouse where one can have a steam treatment and full body exfoliation from the authentic traditions of Morocco.
Hammam is a traditional public bath, separated for men and women. Traditionally, Moroccans visit hammams weekly, but it varies based on personal preference. This ritual dates back to both the Ottoman and Roman empires. This tradition then flew all over the world from the East to the West, especially in the Middle East where it’s essential for brides to take this bath before their wedding to ensure softness and cleanness of their whole body.
A Moroccan hammam is a place for social gathering, pampering, relaxation and rituals, according to Najla, a Moroccan expert in hammam in Marrakech. “Non-Moroccan people treat a trip to the hammam like a day at the spa, unlike Moroccans who see this bath as an opportunity to meet with neighbors and friends for a social gathering. At the hammam, people, especially women, like to hang out at the steam room and gossip. They usually meet twice or three times a month for an exfoliating treatment,” said Najla.
“After being done with the relaxing moments in the Moroccan hammam, women like to gather around for a glass or two of the famous Moroccan tea,” she added.
According to Najla, this tradition has passed down from one generation to another. “I have a long line of family members who worked as bathers. My great grandmother, grandmother and mother used to do this for a living. I now own this public bath,” she said.
“We have to be very careful because this is a traditional bath, and it has to be done in a certain way. I have now taught my daughters how to run the business and how to bathe other women to keep the tradition alive,” she added.
The hammam is a 50 C steam bath with different temperatures that increase from one room to another. The moist heat that wraps the body stimulates circulation and sweating.
Najla explained how the Moroccan hammam is done by moving from one room to another: “First, comes the warm room where you adopt your body to the heat in the hammam. The bather takes the customer to the hammam and washes her body to get rid of the basic dirt on the skin and in her hair.”
Then, comes the hot room. The heat in the hot room allows pores to open wide and let the body sweat out. This brings all the dirt out that’s hidden in the pores and is good for the skin. “The time spent in this room depends on the customer’s tolerance for heat. She can use warm water to refresh herself from time to time, although most Moroccans don’t do that,” added Najla.
The customer is then taken back to the warm room for another wash — only this time, using natural Moroccan black soap made with olive oil. “This is the best part of the hammam because the bather uses a Kessa black glove (crafted goat hair made into a loofa) and rubs the skin remove soap and dead skin to help exfoliate the skin and make it softer,” she explained.