My sister and I sat side-by-side, top-naked, in disposable underwear. We were sweating the day’s dirt, worries, and stresses at the sauna room in Hammam Ziani, a Moroccan bath, or hammam, boasting star-studded clients such as Cat Stevens and Orlando Bloom. It was a bathing experience like no other. This is on a different level from the Budapest baths, my sister muses.
Despite the obvious marketing ploy involving a-many framed pictures of celebrities in Hammam Ziani, the place itself oozed simplicity and comfort. With a minimum 270 DH charge per head (hammam, gommage, sauna and massage), it was not the traditional Moroccan hammam experience one might expect – which will usually only set you back a mere 10-15 DH. Nevertheless, my sister and I paid the dues, got undressed, put on a pair of disposable underwear, and made our way to the hammam, half-naked.
We were welcomed by two Moroccan ladies, in what looked like swimwear. The lady bathing me looked down at my feet in disapproval; the flip flops I brought with me were not suitable. I was asked to use one of the communal rubber slippers they provided. A couple of seconds later, the same lady poured what felt like boiling hot water all over my back. She said a few Arabic words, then later translated into French for me to turn around; the front of my body was given the same heat treatment. I was briefly asked to sit down on a stone chair for more scorching showers, before being asked to visit the sauna.
My sister and I sat in the sauna for a while, often exchanging anecdotes about the experience, but never once exchanging glances. It sounds ridiculous that two girls, who would happily parade around public beaches in swimwear, would feel insecure being half-naked inside a female-only bath. I have only visited a sauna once. This time, however, I felt the room to be too dry for my liking. I was feeling a little breathless; I was glad when we were called over for the gommage.
There were some definite hard scrubbing action going on. I had a quick glimpse of the scrub glove the lady was using all over my body to find little black specks coming off my skin. It’s a little gross (and TMI, perhaps), I know. When we asked Khalid from the Berber Cultural Centre a couple of days later about the hammam culture in Morocco, he told us that many Moroccans would often go to a hammam once a week “to get rid of the dust” but not too often as to “prevent the body from producing the essential oils.”
The gommage finished and we were treated to another thorough bathing session before being led to the massage room. Moroccan women were chatting in Arabic rather precariously as they were massaging us; honestly, the peaceful atmosphere I desired and looked forward to was lacking, thanks to the non-stop chatter by the workers. I’m not sure if this is standard practice in many hammams, but this was an aspect I thoroughly disliked.
The all-over body massage was incredible. The knots all over my back (particularly on my right shoulder where I often place my over-loaded, oversized handbag) were eased. However, the head massage was of poor quality. I am not sure whether the chatter affected its quality, but I felt like the head massage was rushed. It was a half-hearted effort, which could have easily been one of the better parts of the hammam experience. Unsurprisingly, I was left disappointed.
As we were led back to the changing rooms, our slightly relaxing hammam experience came to an end. We collected our belongings and slathered our faces with argan oil. As we retreated back to the tea zone by the reception, I can still feel the after effects of the hot water being poured all over me. I was most definitely refreshed and rejuvenated.
Despite a couple of qualms about this place, the hammam experience made for an interesting evening in Marrakech. Have you ever experienced a hammam?