Originally a traditional meeting place and the center of social life, the Turkish hammams—as well as those from other Arab countries— have several rooms in which the main attraction is the water. They usually consist of different areas for women and men, locker rooms, separate hot and cold-water rooms, steam room, relaxation areas, and the main room—the largest— overflowing with warm water baths.
Upon entering a hammam, the client receives a sarong and must decide whether he just wants a bath, massage or both. He will then choose the thickness of the kessa glove with which his body will be rubbed. These are usually made of coarse fabric that softens the epidermis; the client can also choose the type of soap he wants for his skin. He will proceed to the steam room and finally the warm water room, where he will use bowls to pour water over his body.
The authentic hammam massage is performed on a warm, slippery stone and has little in common with the mild and pleasant massage applied to customers lying on comfortable spa beds. In Arab countries, the experience features a hard and rude rubdown, performed by large women or men who clean, scrub and exfoliate the skin intensively, with the firm intention of releasing–apparently forever–all the dead cells. The client accesses the relaxation room after approximately half an hour, where he is served tea with antioxidant properties.
Hammams have multiple health benefits. The high temperature and the steam improve skin elasticity and hydration. The pores dilate; toxins are removed and sweating facilitates a deep cleaning of the epidermis. However, certain precautions are recommended for pregnant women, the elderly and people with hypertension as heat can accelerate the heart rate.
In Spain, a country with an Arab past, the Al Andalus hotel network has hammam centers in Granada, Malaga, Madrid, and Cordoba. And Grupo Aire has them in Barcelona, Almería, Sevilla and Vallromanes, in addition to its center in Manhattan, New York. You can also find luxury hammam baths in other European countries. In Germany, for example, in the five-star Grand Hotel Heiligendamm on the Baltic Sea; the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof in Frankfurt; the Schloss Elmau, in the Bavarian city of Krün, and the Sultan Hamam in Berlin, which is the largest in the city. In France, Paris has several of these great baths: the O’Kari, Les Bains du Marais, L’Escale Orientale and Hammam Pacha just to name a few. ■