Fancy a bath? Edwina Hutton-Fellowes lathers up with the locals in a public hammam
From an innocuous entrance on the street, I entered the public hammam, a combination of wet and dry rooms, to take part in the very social affair of bathing.
Due to the previously limited availability of running water, these were traditionally located near a mosque to allow ritual cleansing before prayer.
Despite the grey, unadorned walls, the Hammam du Pacha on Rue Fatima Zohra in the Dar el Bacha District is an imposing site to the uninitiated.
Undressing in what resembled a school cloakroom, I followed the lead of the locals, leaving just my knickers on for modesty. There is no need to worry about prying eyes as there are strict times for men and women’s bathing and there is no mixing of the sexes.
After paying the entrance fee (slighted inflated from the local price), your clothes are then placed into a cubby hole by an assistant. For an optional fee, dependent on your haggling skills, you can get a gommage, a soapy scrub from one of the bath attendants.
Armed with a plastic hamman kit - a bucket, stool, bowl, hessian mitt, tub of waxy soap and hair crystals bought earlier from the local market - my equally naked attendant secured us a spot in the steamy wet room.
With no time to be precious about lying on the marble floor among the throng of fifteen or so women engaged in various stages of cleaning, the attendant, a lady as old as the hills, had me pinned down and was aggressively working up a lather on my back.
Despite an early morning shower, this initial scrub took layers of dead skin off me. I didn’t need to be fully conversant in either French or Arabic to know that my bathing regimen was not being held in high regard. Cudgelled by loud tutting and prodding fingers, I was directed to look at what ten minutes of flaying had achieved.
After forty minutes of cleansing, which had involved being pulled into some extreme yoga-like positions to make sure that no part of my anatomy had gone unscrubbed, I was led into a steam room.
After a final dousing of water and one last rummage through my underwear to clear off any suds, the matriarchal assistant ended our time together. Feeling a dress size smaller, I dried off in an almost cathedral-like huge open space with a high vaulted ceiling.
The experience, albeit a sometimes brutal one by western spa standards, was both invigorating and revealing. Women normally cloaked by modest dress and moral code, were friendly and engaging. They were clearly pleased to have a westerner share their culture.
I had by comparison a whistle stop tour; women can spend up to two hours bathing and sometimes visit the hammam three times a week. This is the Marrakechi version of ladies out to lunch.
The act of helping each other wash and sharing day-to-day life while stripped bare is an intimate one, where lifetime bonds of friendship are forged.
Each quarter within Marrakech has a public hamman, so for price of a sandwich back home, it is something not to be missed.
Edwina Hutton-Fellowes travelled to Marrakech with Wanderlust Journeys
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