The Hammams of Morocco
In Morocco, many homes do not have showers and those equipped with one do not always have hot water available to them. Therefore, public bath houses called hammams are found every neighborhood to give people access to hot water and a place to wash up. Like in any society, hammam facilities vary depending on the socio-economic make-up of the area it is in, but generally they are clean and well-maintained.
To enter, there is a 10 dirham fee- about $1.25 USD. Every hammam has separate sides for men and women and young children more often go along with the women. Around the age of 4 or 5 boys start to go with their fathers or older brothers to the mens’ section.
Inside the hammam are three rooms with varying degrees of heat. The hottest room is the one nearest to the wood fired oven. The oven serves to heat the rooms as well as the water that comes from the taps. While many of the mens’ sections have individual shower stalls, the womens’ side is an open room where women line themselves up along the walls with large buckets of water.
The typical hammam bath is not just a shampoo and soap, but a more elaborate series of steps for deep cleaning the body. First, many women start by making a paste of henna to spread on their entire bodies and in their hair as well. They let it soak into the skin for a few minutes while the warmth of the room softens their skin for the next steps.
After rinsing off the henna, a natural olive oil soap called savon-beldi gets applied to the body and quickly rinsed away. At this point, the skin is sufficiently ready for the next step of deep scrubbing. A coarse, black mitten known as a kese, is used to scrub the body from head to toe to remove the top layer of skin. The skin rolls off the body in long rolls revealing soft new skin.
Once the skin is thoroughly scrubbed, shaving, shampooing the hair, and washing the skin with regular soap follows. Some ladies also apply facial masks, use a pumice stone on their feet and use the time to brush their teeth during the course of their bath as well. During the course of a hammam bath, it is not uncommon for a woman to go through four to six large buckets of water.
The mens’ experience would be similar in terms of using the kese to scrub off dead skin, but they won’t use henna and don’t always use savon-beldi. While women may use this time to socialize with friends and neighbors in addition to cleaning, men take care of their business quickly. Although male family members do go together, there is usually a room of separate shower stalls for them to use as well as the traditional open room.
The men and women who work in the hammam are called casells (casellas for women), and will scrub your body and help with filling up water buckets for about 25-30 dirhams or about $3. At high-end hotels and tourist hammams they offer full packages including massages and soaks in tubs filled with rose petals. The accommodations will be considerably nicer than a local hammam as well. The packages are reasonably priced for a full-day experience, but to really experience the hammam Moroccan style it is better to visit a neighborhood one with a local to help you navigate your way around.