Upon booking your Morocco trip, the first thing you start searching for is: what are the best local experiences or must-do things in Morocco? On the top of the list you will always find “Moroccan Hammam”. You might start wondering what exactly is a Moroccan Hammam and then once you google it, you may read that there is a lot of nakedness ascribed to hammams in Morocco. That might either get you excited for it, or have you feeling somehow less-than thrilled to try it, but don’t worry, we’ll explain all that you’ll need to know to feel comfortable when you head to a Moroccan hammam!
What is a Moroccan hammam?
So, what exactly IS a Moroccan hammam? We can answer that in a few ways! One of our favorite definitions of “Moroccan hammam” is that of the popular Moroccan-born comedian Gad Elmaleh, shared with Conan O’Brien on his late-night TV show. Gad Elmaleh explains that Moroccan Hammam is “kind of a steam room with no steam….it gets really hot inside, you sit there… and then comes a man… who is gonna rub, scrub your body and exfoliate all the bacon, cheese burgers and all the things from you. You’re gonna feel real good”.
Of course, as a comedian, Elmaleh’s goal is to make the crowd laugh rather than to provide an in-depth explanation for Moroccan Hammam or more poetically, the “essence” of Moroccan Hammam. In fact, having a hammam in Morocco is more of a bathing and social ritual and it is much older than what many people think. Historically speaking, hammam in general and Moroccan hammam in particular stems from the Roman baths, which means that Moroccan Hammam is as enduring as ancient Rome.
In Morocco, hammam later became a crucial part of the community, because cleanliness and hygiene are incredibly important in Islam. Believers take great care of both purity of the soul and that of the body, which is why traditionally a hammam was often located in close proximity to a mosque in ancient medinas.
Moroccan hammam as a weekly or daily tradition did not emerge from a mere desire, but rather from the need for a communal bathing place since the population of the medinas rarely had running water in their homes. For that reason, hammams in Morocco were a necessity for families living within medinas as long as there was not sufficient space as well in their homes to have a proper bathroom.
In fact, it is often said in Morocco that a hammam is a just one of several necessary elements of a neighborhood, the others being a fountain, a school, a mosque and public oven, all shared by the community. Interestingly enough, a Moroccan Hammam is also typically found located wall to wall with the community oven, so that the heat coming from the timber and burning in the oven does not go wasted, and instead heats both the water and the hammam walls. Hammams in Morocco are also additionally heated by woodchips, a by-product from traditional wood-working crafts and an economic measure to stoke the fierce fires needed to heat up the hammam all day long.
Can women and men go to the same hammam in Morocco?
Perhaps the most important to understand about a Moroccan hammam, they are segregated by gender. For a local community hammam, this may mean separate facilities (and usually doors!) for men and women, or alternating days, or perhaps different hours on the same day.
Due to size and tradition, private hammams in Morocco will still open for just one gender at a time, but some larger and more upscale hammams which cater to tourists may offer a special couples’ private hammam.
If hammams in Morocco are gender-separated, is there a big difference in hammam for women and hammam for men?
For all intents and purposes, no! There is no big difference between a hammam in Morocco for men and a hammam in Morocco for women. Both men and women consider hammam important.
For neighborhood hammams in Morocco which don’t have separate facilities for men and women but rather, have a schedule for both on the same day, most often the hammam is open for men in the early morning and then again in the evening until close, while women will go between those hours.
The local stereotype assumes that men spend less time at a hammam than women, but both men and women go through the same process. Perhaps women are more prone to extending the duration of their hammam visit by additional beauty rituals and simply to socialize and enjoy their time out of the demands of the household!
Men especially will plan for hammam on a Thursday evening or Friday morning to prepare for Friday prayers. Friday is considered the holy day in Islam, in comparison to the Sabbath for Jews or Sundays for Christians, when worshippers congregate at the mosque for the weekly homily. It is strongly encouraged to perform a special ritual ablution, don clean clothes and wear a pleasing scent.
MOROCCO LOCAL INSIDER FUN FACT! The word for “Friday” in Arabic is derived from the word “congregation”.
Scrubbing at a Moroccan hammam is as essential for men as it is for women. Without a good scrubdown, a hammam simply is not a hammam! Moroccans do have different vocabulary in the local Moroccan dialect (Darija) for the hammam worker who may provide the scrubdown. For women, she is known as “tiyaba” which translates loosely into “she who cooks (heats) the water. For men, he is known as “kssal”, which also translates loosely into “he who scrubs”.
Even if you choose not to hire a hammam worker for your scrub down at a neighborhood hammam in Morocco, you may be approached by a helpful soul who is also there to enjoy hammam and who is willing to help you to scrub the areas which you cannot reach, such as the back and shoulders. In return, you can simply offer the same service back to this Good Samaritan who had volunteered to give you a scrub. This is a normal and common practice which should not be interpreted as anything but a kind gesture!
Should I go to a private or local community hammam in Morocco?
The unfamiliarity of tourists with Moroccan Hammam, especially for American, makes it feel as somehow exotic; particularly when it comes to the local community hammam. However, one should bear in mind that Moroccan hammam can be done in multiple ways. You can either go for the traditional community hammam in case you are eager for a local experience the very local vibes. Or, of course, if you do not feel like being naked in front of many others, then the best choice is to have a private Moroccan hammam in the riad where you are staying (if available, of course!) or other private hammams, which is essentially more intimate and relaxing.
Another difference between a private and a local communal hammam in Morocco is that in a private hammam you will be guided and taken care of along every stage of the hammam rituals including the scrubbing part. However, in the local community hammam, you should take care of yourself regarding everything else and, or hire one of the workers there who works there to do the scrubbing for you. We like to affectionately refer to this worker as a “scrubbing buddy”.
What should I bring with me to a Moroccan hammam?
Once you decide on having your first Moroccan hammam, you’ll need to pack your hammam bag. If you are going to a local neighborhood Moroccan hammam, you’ll need to bring all of your own products, such as a towel, shampoo and conditioner, and body wash or soap. Nearby the hammam, you will likely find stores selling exfoliating scrubbing gloves (called “kees” in Morocco) and the precious Moroccan brown soap (“sabon beldi”) that is applied over the whole body before the scrubbing session. Locals may also bring a mat or a small plastic stool to sit on, instead of sitting directly on the ground.
If you’re headed to a private hammam, it’s quite likely that they will supply all the products listed above as part of your Moroccan spa hammam package, but you’ll want to check with the hammam to be sure.
In either case, don’t forget include a change of clean clothes for after the hammam!
What happens inside a Moroccan hammam?
The question you might have in mind now is “alright, we know a lot about Moroccan hammams now, but what are the rituals of a Moroccan hammam? To answer that question, you should bear in mind that the Moroccan hammam as a building consists of multiple rooms (3 rooms typically), and the rituals usually involve moving through these different rooms which vary in temperature.
Once you first get in, you shall pass through the warm room which normally gets your body used to the increasing temperature. Next, you will move to the next room which is warmer/hotter than the first room. At this stage, your body’s pores open up and you start to sweat out impurities. At the third room, which is the warmest in temperature and also the most of important part of Moroccan hammam, you should get slathered with the popular brown soap that is locally called “beldi soap” and then getting a fine scrub in order to remove all the dead skin that has for years accumulated over your body.
If you go to a neighborhood hammam in Morocco, you’ll want to do a quick once-over of the facilities to pick your spot to sit. As the expression goes, “Location! Location! Location” is key at a local Moroccan hammam. Pick a spot away from the fountain or faucets and also, away from the drains. The floors may be sloped slightly to encourage water to drain, and it’s better to sit “upstream” from this flow!
You might be thinking that your body is already clean, since you may take showers on a daily basis, but the moment you have your first hammam in Morocco, you will be astonished on how mistaken you were, seeing all those ropes of dead skin extracted off of your body.
Depending on the hammam, you may also have the opportunity to book a massage. Private hammams will often provide the ultimate in relaxation with scented massage oils of argan and/or orange blossom.
What do I wear inside a Moroccan hammam?
Finally, we come to the question that most of people ask when it comes to hammams in Morocco: “do people really get naked in a Moroccan Hammam?” The answer is “yes-ish”, people do get mostly naked in a Moroccan hammam. It is rare to get fully naked, and we will recommend to take a cue from the people in attendance at your hammam.
Rather, most of the time, both men and women will simply wear underwear or a swimsuit bottom. In more conservative hammams in Morocco, you may see men wearing a longer pair of shorts which extends to or covers the knees. Women and of course, men, will nearly always go bare-chested. If you’re extra modest, you could wrap a towel around you.
MOROCCO LOCAL INSIDER FUN FACT! In Moroccan dialect (Darija), Moroccans refer to taking or having a hammam as “swimming” even though it is atypical for a Moroccan hammam to have a swimming area, as compared to Turkish baths which may commonly have a small pool.
If you’ve read to the end of this post, congratulations! You are now an honorary expert on all things “Moroccan Hammam”! We hope this post has assured you that having a Moroccan hammam is a must-do experience during your trip to Morocco, bringing you one step closer to discovering the authentic Morocco! We encourage you to go forth, with a packed hammam bag and enjoy a hot and steamy Moroccan hammam. As we say in Moroccan dialect (Darija) to someone who has just had taken a shower or bath at hammam, “b’saha” (to your health!).
(Content provided by Imad, edited by Morocco Local Insider)
Morocco Local Insider – Your Destination Guide for Travel to Morocco!