Caitlyn Davey takes a closer look at the tradition and explores the more modern techniques of the Moroccan cleansing ritual.
Morocco is known for plenty of things – argan oil, great food but possibly the most popular is the country’s penchant for all-over body cleansing in the form of a treatment that scrubs dead skin away better than any other.
A Moroccan bathouse, known simply as a hammam, is a traditional cleansing treatment offered across the Middle East and in variations around the globe. There are generally two types – Moroccan and Turkish.
We spoke to Myriam Tessom at the Sofitel’s So Spa in the UAE about the Moroccan hammam and to try this unusual historic ritual. ‘The Moroccan bath can vary in styles and settings,’ she says. It’s usually taken in a room which looks like a regular bathroom – the only difference being the pipe with steam. It is quite a big room where two can be seated. The room is always humid and wet even if the pipes are not on, it’s slightly dark inside to make you feel more relaxed and sleepy.’
History of the hammam
The hammam originated from the days of the Roman empire, when Greeks placed a high value on washing – citizens made weekly visits to the local bathhouses to cleanse themselves. The importance of cleanliness saw the development of these bathing rituals quickly adopted into Arabic culture, predominantly centred around the ablution before prayer. The lack of plumbing in homes in Morocco created a need for the bathing houses where this ancient treatment could be found, hence the development of what we now recognise as a social spa treatment.
Explaining the process, Myriam says: ‘Firstly, you will receive a quick shower and then be covered by the soap which is black and looks like a thick gel. The person then has to sit for ten minutes inside the steam bath, to wait until the pores open from the steam. This is the zenith moment when the soap starts to work and cleanses and softens the whole body, then it is washed off. After washing the black soap from the body we start scrubbing the skin with a special mitt. We scrub the dead skin and other dirt from the body, then shower. To finish the Moroccan bath there is another cream that is applied.’
We venture into the hammam room, and lie down on the heated ‘bed’. Myriam explains the benefits of this super-scrub. ‘A Moroccan bath is done to clean and soften the skin, it also helps to relax the body and mind and helps blood circulation, the veins and joints in the body and releases all the pain and stress.’ It’s like a really relaxing and glorified wash. We get rinsed off and then covered in the foamy soap and become a little sleepy during the process.
Next we’re escorted into a steam room, where we sink into relaxation.
After the soap has worked its magic it’s back onto the bed to be rinsed off. Then the scrubbing begins. The special mitt gives a firm but gentle exfoliation that also feels like an unusual massage.
‘You should know that hammam is not recommended if you have a respiratory illness in the acute stage, such as bronchitis, or pneumonia,’ Myriam warns. ‘It is absolutely contraindicated to go to the bath with a fever, pregnancy, skin infections or sunburn,’ Myriam warns as a note of caution.
The end result is that we are sleepy and zoned out – far more than we expected. Our skin feels alive and fresh and we smell heavenly, and it all adds up to one ritual that is definitely an experience to try.
Hammams to try
The Moroccan bath is a large, steamy affair.
From Dhs350. Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 304 8081).
Rixos Royal Spa
Opt for the traditional hammam for a classic scrub and massage.
From Dhs350. Rixos The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 457 5555).
Talise Ottoman Spa
The Middle East’s largest hammam, and truly authentic.
From Dhs429. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0000).