The Healing Waters: Hammam January 17, 2012Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
Tags: Baths, Hammam, Healing waters, Spa, Travel, Turkish bath
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.
Miraj Hamman Spa, Vancouver.