I highly recommend visiting a hammam if you have a chance. It is a unique experience that is culturally ingrained in the Moroccan society. Taking public baths is such a different concept compared to the western ideal of how to take a bath – which is usually quite solitary. In addition to providing a source for cleaning oneself, hammams are great meetings places and sources of conversation. The closest venue in western society that comes close to a hammam might be the local barbershop.
I had the privilege of being able to use a particular hammam rarely frequented by Westerners. This particular hammam was located just inside the medina in the northern part of town. Hammams are public baths – some are women only and some are men only. However, if there are only a few hammams within a certain geographical area typically certain hours will be denoted “men only” and certain hours will be only for women.
The hammam effectively replaces the private shower. I had the opportunity to visit the inside of several local residences – the shower was nonexistent. The bathroom was merely a squat toilet.
My hammam experience was as follows:
Entering an unobtrusive entrance in the middle of many unobtrusive buildings one finds himself walking along a long narrow walkway in which stumps and logs from trees were piled up along the sides of the corridor. After descending several levels by stairway there are several rooms which one enters in which the temperature becomes increasingly hotter and more humid. The largest of these rooms is the changing room.
After quickly removing all clothing with the exception of swim shorts – we move down another flight of stairs and pass through two small rooms each with wooden swinging doors. Finally we reach the lowest level which is the hammam itself. Its a fairly large room – the floor being tile which is quite slippery with hot mist and humidity hanging in the air. Three or four thin men clothed only in shorts are dipping large plastic buckets into vats of water contained within square concrete walls. Once of these concrete vats is for cold water and one is for hot water. The hot water is heated by fire below using the wood, sourced from a pile that was in the top corridor near the entrance at the street level.
When you are ready for your bath you summon one of these gentlemen and they will pour 1/2 cold and 1/2 warm water into a large bucket. You then have to put your hand in the bucket – if the temperature is to your liking, the man will immediately pour it over you entirely drenching your body.
Next you lay completely horizontal on the tile and let the man scrub you with a very course stone called a “kese”. He scrubs all over your back side, then you flop over and he scrubs your front side. It is remarkable all the dead skin that is removed with this stone. Then you are drenched with a bucket and the scrubbing occurs once more. Once completed you are subjected to a somewhat aggressive massage with vigorous arm twists and at times awkward movements of your limbs. Once this is completed you are left to lie on the tile and if lucky someone will dump another bucket of warm water all over you!