jump to navigation

The Healing Waters: Hammam January 17, 2012

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
Tags: , , , , ,
Hammam, healing waters, communal bathhouse, medicinal spa

Traditional hammam, Morocco

Snowed in and shivering this week, my mind wanders to other forms of medicinal healing waters, specifically those of the traditional hammam, “spreader of warmth,” also known as “the silent doctor.” Originating from Roman thermal baths, hammams were, and in many places still are, communal bath houses common in Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and a variation in Japan. In eastern cultures, hammam visits may be the only time women leave the house, so it is also a place for socializing. It’s possible to find old hammams still frequented by weekly bathers, or updated experiences in sterile spa settings. But the wash routine remains and you will leave the hammam refreshed and cleaner than perhaps ever before.

The hammam is reserved for women to use during the day and men at night, or on separate days of the week. It is customary to bring your own toiletries, undergarments, towel, kiis (exfoliating mitt), two buckets, optional small bowls for rinsing, optional floor mat, and something to wrap around your wet head upon your departure. Spa hammams, of course, use their own skin care products and allow men and women use of separate areas of the spa.

Hammam rooms are centered around a gushing flow of thermal water. The first room you will enter is the preparatory warm room. You will wear dark underwear but no bra. Fill your buckets with warm and cool water. Use the cool water bucket to rinse off the marble or stone floor space where you will sit, and to rinse your body. Spend time here to relax, allow your pores to open and your cares to flee.

Move to the hot room where you will spend ample time sweating to detoxify and cleanse your skin.When you reach your tolerance for heat it’s time to move on.

Enter a second warm room where you will wash. As a courtesy, someone may offer to wash your back. Do not interpret this as anything else. Or, an attendant may assist you if you have previously asked and paid for that service. After your skin is washed with the kiis, and also your hair, use the warm water bucket to rinse.

From here, you enter the cold room to begin to adjust to outside temperatures. Often there are benches and showers to use for a final rinse before a deep-pressured, abrasive massage on the stone floor. Remaining dirt and several layers of skin are removed, joints are cracked. Your skin is olive-oiled and then covered with a special lotion and you’re ready to be on your way. Remember to cover your wet head, as is custom, or someone is likely to do it for you.

Arabs tailored bath houses from early Greek and Roman ones, became an important hygienic aspect of religion and were often connected to Islamic mosques. Residents of and travelers to Cairo 500 years ago supported over 300 bath houses. You will even find some there today dating back to 1300. It’ll cost you between 2 and 3 of today’s dollars in a traditional hammam, or upward of 200 at a spa.

Heat, steam and massage have been enjoyed and used medicinally from ancient tundra dwellers to Jordan. “The silent doctor” still has us yearning for renewal from this ancient water therapy.

HAMMAM Spa, Toronto.

Riad Kniza, Marrakech.

Amanjena, Morocco.

Miraj Hamman Spa, Vancouver.


1. originalribenababy - January 17, 2012

My experience of a Turkish bath was a little different.

It was underground, and dimly lit. We were allowed to keep swimwear on and I was with my boyfriend of the time. We were there in the middle of the day so it was devoid of other people.

A large Turkish gentleman showed us to the hot room where we were left to sweat it out. It amused me because my fella had melted into a puddle on the floor and I had perhaps only produce a single bead or two so our gentleman relented with his torture and we moved on to the washing.

We lay/sat on a stone table and he gave a soapy body scrub to exfoliate – and goodness did it exfoliate! He didn’t speak English, and kept showing me how snake like my skin was becoming, I just kept producing a somewhat uncomfortable smile embarassed I must look so filthy!

We then had to throw freezing cold water over ourselves to wash off the soap – I admit I was reluctant to get cold!

He then told my boyfriend to strip off and we both took separate open showers before having a cup of apple tea.

A fun experience but my new found skin was so tender I got prickly heat for the rest of my stay :) worth it for the experience though, especially when it felt a bit more authentic than the sterile environment of a modern hotel spa.

acroanmph - January 17, 2012

Thanks for sharing your unique experience w/ hammam! :D

2. Sabrina Bolin (@MyMiBoSo) - January 19, 2012

I love the step by step description of what to expect! Now it’s been added to my list of experiences to seek out!

It reminds me a bit of my Korean spa experience here in LA with the steaming, rubbing, and scrubbing.

3. The Healing Waters: Mineral Hot Springs « Amy Croan MPH - January 24, 2012

[…] accessible than thalasso spas or hammams, mineral hot springs are natural geothermal waters heated through contact with volcanic magma or […]

4. The Healing Waters: Mineral Hot Springs « Amy Croan MPH - January 24, 2012

[…] accessible than thalasso spas or hammams, mineral hot springs are natural geothermal waters heated through contact with volcanic magma or […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers

%d bloggers like this: