Public baths are an integral part of life in Morocco and reading our Morocco blog should help you gain a better understanding of hammam life in this north African country. A visit to the country just isn’t quite complete without a souvenir kiis and a story to go with it. Hammams, though, come with their own set of unspoken rules, and for outsiders, they can be more than a little confusing. Here is our guide to hammam-ing it up in Morocco.
1. Get your supplies.
Bring along anything you normally use when you bathe, including soap, shampoo, conditioner and a razor. You will also need a towel. Stop by the souk on your way to the hammam and grab a small bucket (to douse yourself with water, but more on that later) and a kiis, a rough mitt that you’ll use to help exfoliate your skin.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also buy some rasoul, or ’black soap,’ which is what many Moroccans use as their go-to bath product. Look for the tubs of sticky brown goo in the souk. Add some water and you’ll be lathered and ready in no time! If the idea of sitting on the floor of the hammam doesn’t sound all that pleasant to you, it might also be a good idea to grab a small seat or stool to use while you bathe.
2. Get organized.
When you walk in to the hammam, you’ll likely pay the attendant, who will direct you to the appropriate changing area. Larger hammams have separate areas for men and women, while smaller hammams allow entrance to different genders at different times of day. This is where you take off your clothes and gather your bathing supplies. Most Moroccans don’t strip all the way down—they’ll leave their underwear on—but do what feels comfortable to you.
Past the changing area you’ll enter into the first of (usually) three rooms, each progressively warmer. The innermost room is where the hottest water flows. Buckets are provided for you to fill and mix until the water is just as hot as you like. One that’s done, take your water and find an open space in one of the rooms.
3. Get clean.
Take a moment to rinse off your floor space, then get to it. Douse yourself in hot water (dipping your personal bucket into the larger one provided) and soap up. Take out your kiis and work it against your skin. You’ll soon see the dirt and dead skin start to pill up and fall from your body. It’s not pretty, but just think about how much cleaner you’ll be!
Some hammams have attendants on hand to scrub your back or body or to give a deep massage. If it sounds enticing, go for it!
When you’re all set to go, give your area a last rinse off, return your buckets and head back into the changing area to dry off and get dressed.
4. Get on with your day.
Once you head out, you’ll probably hear the words ‘bssHa!’ more than a few times. Moroccans say this to anyone who has just come from a bath, and it translates roughly to ‘to your health.’ Reply with a smile and a ‘llay tik saH,’ which means ‘and yours as well.’
5. But don’t be that guy.
Unless you’re the only person there, its usually considered bad form to take more than two buckets of hot water. Likewise, the floors of a hammam are all sloped toward a central drain; take a moment to make sure your rinse water isn’t going to flow into anyone else’s wash area.
And there you have it! Now you can say you have ventured into a Moroccan hammam and are down a few dead skin cells, fourteen times cleaner and richer for the experience.
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by only alice.