HAMMAM. A hammam ritual is an Arabian body treatment involving steam and cleansing black soap.The Arab bathroom ritual
Once upon a time, in the Middle East, there were no bathrooms inside homes. To answer nature’s call, there were only toilets positioned as far as possible from the main house. However, as taking a proper bath was a strong culture in that part of the world, many public bath places were constructed to cater for the needs of every locality. Of course, given the cultural norms of the time, in bigger cities, there were separate bath houses for men and women, in smaller towns the same bath was used on alternate days.
Where it is practiced
Iran, Syria and Turkey are among the countries where such bath houses, also known as ‘Hammam’, were constructed. Since then, almost all homes have their own bathing facilities, but this culture of the public bath did not fade away. Instead, people, especially women, take this as a social event and plan a full day out at the Hammam! Usually younger children of the family are tagged along, for some it is a wonderful fun day, for others who didn’t like spending hours being washed and scrubbed, it is a challenging day.
Today’s version of bathroom
It is interesting that in today’s world, the same concept is being used albeit in a new ‘posh’ name: the Spa!
All the steps that were used in the old Hammam to cleanse the body and relax the person, are now developed in the Spa, with a modern flavour. For example, in some parts of the Hammam, there is a big concentration of hot steam where clients would sit for a long period, wrapped in special cotton towels, offered cold drinks and waiting for their skin to soften and for the pores to open up. This concept is known today as the steam room.
In a traditional Hammam after the steam and an in depth washing, a very strong masseur/masseuse comes in and gives the clients a thorough body massage; some of them look so overwhelming that one might think twice before allowing them to knead one’s bones.
In today’s spas, gentle and professional staff direct you to a candle lit massage room, with lovely herbal aromas and soothing music background, they even ask you how strong or gentle you want their finger pressure to be while massaging you.
One of the most known customs during weddings, that is practiced among many Arab nations, is taking the bride and her entourage to a traditional Hammam.
Upon my visit to Libya for a friend’s wedding, and as tradition goes, we went to the Hammam. A portion of the Hammam was booked for the occasion and as the group of women and the bride arrived, there were ululations and cheering.
After the Hammam rituals, it was my turn to get a massage. My friend said that because I was their guest, one of the best masseuse was assigned to me, however, once the heavily built woman walked in, I had a quick change of mind and opted out! And that was my Hammam story.