For this post I’ve decided to do a comparison between traditional Moroccan baths and Turkish baths. Both are championed for their refreshing effects, but which is better?
The traditional bath I went to in Morocco was ‘Hammam Basha’ (hammam is just Arabic for bath), located in the new medina of Fes. We were recommended here by one of our teachers, who told us that he and his wife visit every weekend and that it’s great for your health. In fact, he said that if you have any sort of cold and visit a hammam, you’ll feel entirely healthy again – a great claim.
I went with three other girl friends where we wondered into the womens’ section, paying about 50 dirhams each (around £4.50) for hammam entrance and black soap exfoliation. If you want the exfoliation (I’d say a hammam trip is pointless without it) you’ll need to bring your own tub of black soap and exfoliator mitt, you can find these in the old medina of Fes for around 40 dirhams (about £3.50). The black soap is made from olive oil and you can buy it mixed in with various herbs, such as rose or eucalyptus.
After paying, we walked through into to the changing room where we had to take off all of our clothes apart from our underwear, and some women choose to go in completely naked. This was a very bizarre but liberating experience coming from the UK, where there is nothing even remotely like this in our culture today. We were then asked which level of heat we wanted, cool, luke-warm, warm or hot – of course we went for the hottest! We were then led through the chambers where women were cleaning themselves and their children until we arrived at the final, hottest chamber. We sat on the marble floor and a woman brought us large buckets of water to cleanse ourselves with whilst we waited to be exfoliated.
This is exfoliation is not for the faint hearted! The women will rub really hard at your skin which can get slightly painful sometimes, but it’s all part of the experience. You’ll be amazed at the amount of dead skin that comes off! Keep in mind here that if you have a tan, you’ll come out looking a lot paler than when you went in. The exfoliation takes about 15 minutes and afterwards you can wash yourself off with more cool and hot water. It isn’t until you leave the hammam that you’ll start to really feel the benefits. We were all feeling incredibly relaxed and refreshed for the rest of the day and our skin was extremely soft!
My Turkish bath experience was in Amman, Jordan and I was taken by the daughter of my host family. It was at the Serenity Spa, which includes the Turkish hammam as well as a swimming pool and gym. It’s a women only area and they offer a broad range of beauty and relaxation treatments. The Turkish bath here was a far longer process than the Moroccan bath I experienced and cost around £11. We went in our bikinis, as did all the other women (no nakedness here!), firstly into the sauna for 15 minutes followed by the steam room for a further 15 minutes. Afterwards, we followed into the Jacuzzi until we were ready to be cleansed.
Firstly, you are laid on a heated stone slab and exfoliated, before being washed down with water, your hair is also washed for you, and finally you are massaged on the heated stone slab with oils. This was a very luxurious experience and afterwards we couldn’t resist taking another dip in the Jacuzzi! My skin was squeaky clean but I was almost too relaxed after this hammam and ended up spending the rest of the day snoozing.
My experiences of the traditional Moroccan hammam and Turkish hammam are not universal and hammams everywhere vary on modernity, the services and facilities available, prices and individual process. I’m sure there are plenty of people who could tell me that their experience of a Moroccan or Turkish bath was totally different to my own. However, you can guarantee that no matter where you go you’ll come out feeling totally refreshed and relaxed so it’s worth trying different places until you find your favourite one!