Today, Hamams are considered an area for purifying
and detoxifying the skin and body, increasing circulation, stimulating
the immune system and encouraging complete physical and mental well-being.
Hamams are relaxing and stress relieving. Those
with muscle aches or arthritis may find that the heat relaxes muscles
and relieves pain and inflammation. Asthma and allergy sufferers
find that the heat dilates air passageways of the lung and facilitates
During the decline of the Roman Empire, whose past splendor was no longer perceptible except in the boot of Italy, the architecture of the ancient Greek baths and the Roman balnea inspired the Turkish baths, although these were smaller and more modest. However, the practice of the hammam did not really begin to develop until about 600 years after Jesus Christ, when the prophet Mohammed himself, conquered, made its apology.
The "heat diffuser" bath
The Prophet Muhammad believed that the heat of the hammam (which in Arabic means "that spreads heat") increased fertility, and thus facilitated the reproduction of believers. Before Mohammad took an interest in it, the Arabs only used cold water to wash themselves, and never bathtubs, because for them it was like washing in filth. But when the Arabs discovered the Roman and Greek baths during conquests in Syria, the religious immediately adopted the steam bath.
The Arabs adopted the steam bath, but quickly adapted this foreign practice. The hammam took on religious significance, and soon became an annex to the mosque, where it was used to comply with Islamic rules of hygiene and purification. Less importance was given to the physical and intellectual development component, and only the practice of massage continued.
After having tasted the pleasures of hot water, the Arabs no longer appreciated showers and baths in cold water. The hammam became a place of quiet retreat, in semi-darkness, where an atmosphere of idleness and solitude reigned. From an architectural point of view, the vault of the ceilings was lowered, the baths becoming smaller and more modest. While the Romans built large public baths in the city center, the Arabs preferred to build several smaller ones scattered throughout the city, like the Roman balnea. As in the thermal baths, the bather passed through a series of rooms, but their respective importance differed.
In the hammam, the Roman tepidarium was reduced to a simple corridor leading from the changing rooms to the "harara" (hot room) where one could receive specialized massages, which was not the case in the Roman caldarium. A small adjoining room reserved for the steam bath replaced the laconicum. While the Roman bather ended his session in a library or a study, in the hammam we found ourselves in the departure room, where we lay down on bunks, in the rest area: the, servants brought drinks and refreshed bathers with fans.
The method of heating by hypocaust (underground hearth intended to heat the baths) is preserved, but in certain regions, following the example of the Romans, the Arabs used the heat of natural hot springs. In this type of hammam, called kaplica or ilica, there is no sweating platform in the center of the hottest room. A natural hot water pool replaces it to heat the hammam.
As the water bubbles and is filtered, the Arabs could bathe there without fear of dirt. (The city of Bursa has some of the oldest kaplicas or ilicas in the Middle East.)
The practice of the hammam followed the expansion of Islam, as evidenced by the many hammams still standing in Iran, Asia Minor, and across North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco. Before the Arabs were driven out, there were hammams in Andalusia and along the Danube. The conquered temples, churches and baths were often transformed into hammams (just like the Islamic religion, which did not exclude the Jews and the Christians, the hammam was accessible to all).
Like the Roman baths, the hammam became a meeting place. “Your city is not perfect until it has baths,” said Abu Sir, an ancient Arab historian. In order to promote the local hammam, the entry prices were so low that everyone could enjoy it. "It is up to the bather to pay according to his rank" says a caliph in the tales of the thousand and one nights. To avoid corruption among the tellaks (the young boys who worked in the men's baths), they were granted the privilege of not paying taxes.
The baths were one of the few places in Islam to be accessible to all, from very early in the morning until late at night, sometimes even longer. The barber was one of the attractions of the baths. He shaved beards, cut hair, practiced bloodletting and, like the tellak, gave massages and cleaned bodies. The barbers being in close contact with the bathers, they were not allowed to eat garlic. An important task for the barber was to sand the soles of bathers' feet to remove calluses. Callus-free feet were believed to not only allow nasty fumes to escape, but also make migraines go away. When the bather stood up, fatigue and other undesirable effects descended and left the body through the feet. The barbers, aware of the news from the city and outside, were sources of information and gossip.
*) This text is translated from French , written by dany in the Darnna Forum in the the subject "Les bains maures au Maroc ( Hammam public)"/ Moorish baths in Morocco (public Hammam)/