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Unwritten Rules of the Hammam

Women's and Men's Hammams are Separate. Some hammams are exclusively for men or women. Others are open for women during certain hours of the day - usually the early part of the day - and reserved for men later in the evening. Be sure to ask in advance so that you aren't embarrassed by trying to enter at the wrong time of day.

What to Bring With You

  • Two clean buckets, if you have them. (If you do not have your own buckets, you can use the black buckets provided in the hammam. However, at busy times there may be a shortage of buckets and you may find yourself in the lurch.)
  • A water scoop (these are typically round plastic bowls with no handle and a white bottom that you will see in the souk. These are not available inside the hammam, so this is important to bring with you.)
  • Soap (preferably in a soap box), shampoo, and a razor
  • A brush or comb
  • A bag large enough to put your shoes, clothes, and towel in. You will check this bag inside at the counter. Most Moroccans will use the plastic woven shopping bags you see in the Medina
  • A cedar wooden bench if you do not wish to sit directly on the floor. Most Moroccans do not use a bench.
  • A black, rough scrubbing mitt. You will find these for sale everywhere in the Medina.
  • A towel
  • Wear a dark pair of underwear that you will wear while you bathe (Women will wear underpants only. Men will wear boxer shorts or briefs.)
  • Bring a dry pair of underwear to change into when you're done
  • About 5 dirhams for entrance at the door, and several single dirhams to tip the person who will guard your bag

The Bathing Ritual

People have their own personal practices for hammam bathing, but here is the general order in which it is done:

  • Rinse. Rinse yourself thoroughly with clear hot water. Moroccans often use very hot water in order to bring themselves to a sweat.
  • Wait. Wait a while until you begin to sweat and your skin softens.
  • Scrub. Once you have been wet for a while, take the rough black mitt and, without soap, begin to scrub yourself in long hard strokes until the dead skin loosens and begins to roll off. Do not rinse until the skin starts to roll. If you have never done this before, you will be surprised, first, at how much dead skin you have tolerated, and second, how remarkably clean you will feel afterward. Once you have finished scrubbing an area, rinse off with clear water. Moroccans will scrub every inch of their body this way, and this can take a long time. Other than companionship, one good reason to take a friend to the hammam is so that someone will scrub your back. People who go alone will sometimes ask someone else to do this for them, and offer to return the favor. Be careful - Moroccans are used to this and are rough scrubbers - you could end up with a prickly rug burn on your back after a thorough working-over by a neighbor. Say shuya, or "only a little", and they may go easy on you.
  • Soap. Traditionally, you use soap only after you have finished your thorough scrubbing.
  • Wash Hair
  • Shave
  • Rinse

What to Do and When

  • At the front door of the hammam there is typically a person sitting and charging the entrance fee of approximately 5 DH. Verify here that it is the appropriate time for men or women. Pay and receive a small paper ticket.
  • Entering the hammam, you will see the dressing area. There will be people toweling themselves off after their bath and also people undressing, usually at wooden benches along the sides of the room. Find an open place for yourself.
  • Remove all your clothing except your underpants. Place your clothes, shoes and all, and your towel in your bag. Do not take the towel into the hammam with you. There will be no place for it.
  • Check your bag at the counter. To do this, go to the counter and place your bag on the counter with your paper ticket and 1-2 additional dirhams as a tip for the guardian. They will not give you a number or any other marker in exchange for your bag. These individuals are masters at remembering which bag belongs to you.
  • Take all your bathing supplies and your buckets in. It is normal, even if you have your own buckets, to take an additional black heavy bucket from the pile. It's nice to have a lot of buckets because you can build a bigger perimeter wall around your space. But be considerate. You really don't need more than 2 buckets, and if the communal buckets are in short supply you will be frowned at. Also remember that the black hammam buckets are considered dirtier than your personal bucket, so people usually wash the black buckets out well with scalding water once they reach the hot water cistern.
  • Go inside the hammam and scout out a space for yourself with your back to a wall. As a first time hammam visitor, you might want to go all the way in to the hot water cisterns to see just how hot you can bear it before you choose which room you want to settle in.
  • Set your things out in a semicircle to define your space. The floors are slightly sloped for best drainage. Watch the way the water flows along the ground, and be careful to situate yourself uphill of your neighbors or in a place with good drainage. Avoid downslope corners and other areas where dirty water will gather. Also avoid sitting too close to the water cisterns, because at busy hours or when the water is filling slowly a crowd will form around the cistern and may crowd you. There will also be times when the scalding water will overflow from the cistern and wash over the floor in front of it. You want to have enough warning to get out of the way if this happens (and to help other people get out of the way.)
  • Go to the cistern with your two buckets. Be careful of the scalding water. It's best to get the hot water first, because at times the hot water is low and you will need to scoop with one bucket to fill the other. Then fill your other bucket with cold water, or add some cold to your hot water. Return to your place with your buckets.
  • Use your scoop both to mix the water in the buckets to the desired temperature and to pour it over yourself as you wash. (See "The Bathing Ritual", side-bar). Never get soap in your buckets.
  • At times when buckets are rare, someone may ask you whether they can borrow one of yours. Someone near you may also ask you to scrub their back, if they are alone. Or they may offer to scrub yours, a gesture of welcome. This is the serendipity of the hammam. Occasionally you may be approached by the guardian of the hammam who will offer to give you a thorough scrubbing. This usually costs a few dirhams. If you are in the men's hammam be aware that in accepting you might be subjected to a thorough Moroccan stretch.
  • When you are finished bathing, empty your buckets and return to the dressing room. Go to the counter and the woman will bring you your bag.
  • Find a new spot at the benches and towel off and get dressed. Moroccans will usually cover themselves with their towel while they change their underwear.
  • When you are leaving the hammam and on your way home, you may hear people say to you "Bisaha", the best translation of which is "to your health". Answer this with "Allah atik saHA", which returns the wish.