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.
unwritten rules of the hammam
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.
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 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.