The Hammam in the Life of the Medina


The Architecture of the Hammam

The traditional structure of the hammam is a series of rooms leading inward toward heat. Upon entering from the street, the bather comes to a large dressing room with wooden benches on which bathers remove their clothes and place them in bags to be deposited with the guardian. The hammam then leads inward through large and small tiled rooms - sometimes with vaulted ceilings, growing steadily hotter as they near the center room with the single water source. In this center room, water flows into two separate cisterns, one cold, and one extremely hot. The water is often heated by ovens stoked with wood chips and frequently also serves as the community bread oven. Bathers draw their own water in buckets and sit on the tiled floors along the walls, their buckets and toiletries defining their personal space in a semicircle in front of them. From this vantage point, both private and communal, one watches the spectacle of other families, talks with one's neighbor, or relaxes and scrubs contemplatively. Depending on the time of day or week, the hammam can be a quiet sanctuary or a cacophonous gallery of children's voices.

the unwritten rules of the hammam

A private visit to the community hammam in the company of our Moroccan team and friends is offered to all Fes Medina guests. This is a rare opportunity to experience a side of Morocco that tourists rarely dare to discover alone.

The Women's Hammam

For many women visitors to Morocco, the women's hamman will be the only experience of a women's public space. Here, the visitor is privileged to be among many generations of Moroccan women tending to their children and each other in the traditional ritual of bathing. Side by side, grandmothers wash and henna their long hair as mothers scrub their young children. Young girls scrub each other's backs and legs and wash with rich sabon bildi, the traditional salve-like soap only available in the Medina. Young boys run on bare feet with tiny buckets, doing their part in carrying the water for their mothers. In the steamy air, every stage of a woman's life is present, from adolescent girls in the flower of their bodies, to the oldest women honored and bathed by their granddaughters.

The Men's Hammam

The energy in the men's hammam is higher and the spirit can be slightly competitive, but the same intergenerational span of the family is present. Fathers bathe their young sons with hot water and a thorough scrubbing which elicits wide eyes and pursed lips, and in the youngest boys sometimes a heartfelt wail. Groups of young men joke with each other, flex their muscles, and stretch each other in slow and elaborate routines. Young boys are allowed to attend the women's hammam with their mothers until the age that they start to look around with too much interest. Once this time comes, they are banned forever from this inner sanctum of women, which they often remember nostalgically throughout their adult lives.