A traditional hammam or – steam bath if you like – is the perfect remedy for those seeking a truly envigorating Moroccan experience. The hammam is traditionally a place for men or women to meet and chat whilst being scrubbed clean and massaged. Hammams are a hive of activity and noise, and many exhibit fine examples of Moroccan architecture, with vaulted ceilings, tadelakt walls and elaborately tiled floors.
Leave your things in the changing room and take toiletries into the first ‘warm’ room. This is where you acclimatise to the heat and can collect buckets to fill with water – one cold and one hot. Once accustomed to the heat, move into the second ‘hot’ room to let your pores open and breathe. Move back to the warm room for your cleanse. This is where you coat yourself in oily black savon noir (traditional, 100 percent natural soap made from olive oil) and then use your hammam glove to scrape it – and several layers of your skin – off.
In the Middle Ages, when the Christian Spain was in a period where hygiene was not largely considered (let alone personal hygiene), the Muslim Cordoba boasted more than 600 public bathhouses. Heirs of Roman and Turkish baths, some were humble and economical, others were a luxury. Their walls were tiled and their rooms were separated by arches and columns ; their ceilings were vaulted and contained skylights. They were not only a resting place but also a social and political forum.
Some treaties from that period show the refinement the Andalusians, describing in detail their hygiene habits and the style of their personal likes, such as the use of toothpaste, hair-removing cream, oils and aromatic lathers with musk, jasmine or violet essences. The tradition of the hammam continues in Morocco to this day with very little variation.