Spare your blushes with our etiquette guide to steam-cleaning, Middle East style
1. Choose your service from the price list or, better, go for everything. Payment is up front; there’s no time limit. Allow one hour minimum, preferably two. Proper hammams are never mixed, but have separate set hours for men and women. Men never remove their towel from their waist; women can go topless or naked.
The modestly inclined can take swimwear.
2. You are given a towel, wooden clogs, soap and a coarse mitt, then shown to the changing area – often a beautiful room with raised benches. Valuables can be locked up. When changed, clip-clop into the warm room to adjust, then pass into the steamy hot room.
3. Find a basin and sit beside it, scooping hot or cold water over yourself and soaping yourself at leisure.
4. When summoned for your massage, lie down on the central hot marble slab; allow yourself to be oiled and pummelled from head to toe.
5. Next, the full body scrub with the coarse mitt, which removes filth – and several layers of skin. After a final soaping into a frothy lather, you’re rinsed off. Back in the changing area you are given dry towels and tea; relax as long as you like.
Did you know…? The Ottoman hammam was the only place where women were permitted to socialise freely – much matchmaking used to take place, with mothers eyeing up potential brides for their sons
Words: Diana Darke, author of Bradt guides to Syria, Oman, East Turkey and North Cyprus