Public baths, or hammam as they are called locally, are a “must do” in a Moroccan trip as they are still part of the routine of the local population, not just because of the traditions as also because many houses, particularly in the old parts of the cities (medinas), don’t have bathing facilities. And besides this, the public bath keeps playing an important role in social life, particularly for the women, who find in the hammams a place to socialize and move away from the housewives routines to which they are still totally dedicated.
Traditionally, in all Moroccan cities, towns and villages, where there is a mosque there’s also a hammam and a bakery!!! But they are not easy to spot, as many times there’s no sign outside or if there’s one it’s in Arabic writing. So this pushes many times the foreigner visitors to a more touristic (and expensive experience) where the hammam gets close to a spa, with comfort and western standards but where local people don’t go.
But if you are looking for a relaxing chill experience, a public hammam is not the best choice, as the conditions are simple and basic, without a proper dressing room, a place to sit, to be scrubbed or to receive a massage. There’s only the floor, the walls, tanks with cold and hot water, and few rooms at different temperatures… there are buckets all over the place and people move in a certain bustle by filling the buckets and transporting them to the different rooms, since there are no showers, using jugs to pour water on the body, with a mother and daughters or friends to help each other in this process. Forget the sophistication and the quietness of the spa cliché… this is much more interesting!!!!
In Morocco the hammam has total gender segregation; in the ones that don’t have these facilities there’s a different schedule for men and women. This makes that in the women side there are a lot of kids (both sex), and a lot of girls and teenagers, making it busy and noisy place where it’s a challenge to relax… but at the same time it’s a gathering of women from different generations where, without modesty or shame, the body is exposed showing how the aging process manifest in our bodies.
If you want a scrub (it’s used the French word gommage) or a massage you must ask to a friend or in the case that you are alone you can hire the services of the hammam staff.
Despite the noise and the movement I confess that the visit to the public bath end up being a very enjoyable and relaxing and experience, I recommend to be made at the end of the day, as when I come out I felt melting and with only energy to eat a soup before walking back to the guesthouse.
One curiosity… the water for the hammam is heated with fire, in fact, was this way that I spot the first public bath, as passing by a narrow door I saw a pile of wood, and at the end of a dark corridor a man feeding a huge stove.
It’s a very nice and interesting experience and I only try these baths at the end of my trip to Morocco, otherwise, I would have visited the hammam more times. Forget the glamorous idea of a hammam and join the locals… you’ll receive a lot of sincere smiles.
Public hammam in Meknes:
In Meknes, the public hammam is located inside the medina, a few meters from the Lahdim Square, if you walk to the right side (with Bab Mansour on your back), along a narrow street, you’ll find the sign “Riad Ritaj Maison d’Hotel” that’s is also a restaurant. Just in front, on the opposite side of the alley, you’ll find a small and anonymous door without any sign that is the entrance to the hammam.
As far as I remember, this hammam open at 12 for women, but the schedule changes along the day, with the late afternoon reserved men, until 8 p.m. The entrance costs 10 Dirham and if you need a massage or scrub you must pay extra. Bring your own towel, soap, etc… buckets are available inside. The staff of Riad Ritaj it’s available to give you more detail information! Just ask, as they are very friendly!
In such a big medina, for sure Meknes have another hammam, but many times the people from hotels will point you the more touristic ones… I was very lucky as the owner of the Restaurant Mille et Une Nuits (located closely) gave me useful tips about the traditional hammam as also about the way it works and what to bring.
Public hammam in Mulay Idriss:
In Mulay Idriss is more difficult to indicate the way to the hammam, as it is located in the old part of the village, somewhere in the maze of streets that spreads on the hillside, in a steep street with steps. It looks very small and it was almost impossible to understand the schedules, as the lady in charge spoke no English.
For sure that if you ask local people they all can point you the direction of the hammam!
Public hammam in Imlil:
There’s also a hammam in Imlil more focus in the tourist clients, just on the right side of the road, after the turn to the Toubkal trail. It’s in a red colour building a bit up the hill but visible from the road, not far from the small bridge. The local association manages this place and the profits support the local community.
Public hammam in Fes:
This was the only hammam that I visit in Morocco, so all I’m not sure if this is the Moroccan standard.
It’s located inside the medina, in one of the main streets, Rue Talaa Sghira, not far from the Bab Boujeloud, the most famous gate. It’s called Hammam Sidi Azouz (you can find in Google maps as also Maps.me app). Walk down the street you’ll spot a simple door, with an arc shape, tiles on the tiles on the background wall and a sign above (check the photos below).
At the entrance, you need to pay the hammam fee, 15 Dirham, to the doorman. Once you step inside you reach the dressing room, a large room, with high ceiling formed by vaults of Moorish style. Here there are bench and closets where you can put clothes and stuff. There are no security lockers but the place seemed to be safe and there’s a person apparently cleaning and taking care of the place, whom I tip with 5 Dirhams to keep an eye on my stuff.
Once you cross a small door, you’ll get inside the bath area of the hammam, a sequence of rooms with an arched ceiling and a black and white tile floor, that as you move further get warmer and warmer. On the last one, where you can feel the intensity of the hot steam, there are two big water tanks, one cold and the other one very hot, from where the ladies fill up their buckets. It’s a place without windows and the only light comes from the small openings on the top of the high ceiling, wrapping the place with a dim light, that with the steam create a fantastic ambiance.
There’s a lady in charge, to who took care of me, and by gestures and a few French words guide me in this experience, bringing me water buckets, point me where to stay, poured water over me to remove the soap and scrub my entire body… she’s also responsible for the massage but I skip that part as it was out of my budget.
The scrubbing part I confess was the most impressive… following the instruction of the lady, I just lay down on the floor (that is warm) while she scrubs my body vigorously with a proper glove. It was intense and for moments I thought that my skin couldn’t handle with such rough treatment, but after the first impact I start to enjoy the sensation and at the same time the feeling of total surrender to the care of someone else.
For the scrub I pay 50 Dirham, which is more than the locals pay for this service but I really enjoy it and I felt very grateful for her help managing the hammam procedures.
What you need for a hammam:
- Soap and shampoo… or the traditional “beldi” or “savon beldi”, a kind of olive soap, that maybe doesn’t look appealing by its dark colour but will give an extra smoothness to the skin. You can buy in some herbalist shops in the medina markets.
- For the scrubbing, you need your own glove (you can find easily at the souk and according to the quality it can cost from 5 to 15 Dirham).
- Big bucket and a small jug that you can buy at the souk… I use the big buckets available at the hammam and borrow the jug from a lady there.
- Some ladies bring a small plastic stool to avoid sitting directly on the floor, as there are no benches or whatsoever to seat, but a towel can also work.
- .. no one uses them but I always appreciate and avoid you to slip.
In terms of etiquette, on the men side, it isn’t accepted full nudity. At the ladies side, most of the women wear only panties, and nothing to cover the breasts. So is better to bring extra underwear to change after the bath.
To be honest, I can’t add more detailed information than what is written in this blog… and with a male perspective!!!