This review of Hammam Ziani in Marrakech is a few years old now, but the traditional hammam experience itself is hundreds of years old, so the story is still relevant!
The first time I visited Marrakech, I was keen to try out a traditional hammam experience. But I was travelling with my then-boyfriend, and hammams aren’t usually a unisex affair. In the end, I was a little too nervous to go for the authentic public hammam alone.
Instead, I headed to a swish hotel in the Nouvelle Ville and treated myself to a pricey, private, hammam and massage.
Luckily, I later got the opportunity to travel back to Marrakech with a group of work colleagues. So I could head bravely into a public hammam with a group of girls surrounding me.
Authentic Experience at Hammam Ziani Marrakech
Be warned: if you’re not a fan of public nudity, this kind of experience isn’t for you! On arrival at the Hammam Ziani – an unassuming-looking building on the edge of the Marrakech Medina – we were ushered into a small, brightly lit changing room and ordered out of our clothes.
The attendants, laughing at the shock on our faces, handed us tiny paper g-strings and sent us behind a curtain to change. Luckily, I had my bikini bottoms with me and was able to keep them on (I didn’t really want to hang out in a see-through thong with colleagues!). Although my briefs were constantly in the way, so it might have been better to just brave the paper pants!
After we’d gotten over the initial surprise of our sudden, intimate knowledge of one another, the public nudity really wasn’t so bad.
We all had a laugh as we were splashed down with hot water by the bucket load! Pretty quickly, we were led through into the steam room. The steam was so thick that I couldn’t see further than a foot in front of my face. So there was no need to worry about covering my wobbly bits!
The domed roof was studded with tiny windows filtered by coloured plastic, filling the room with a gloomy but colourful light, as the noise of our giggling and gossip echoed around. The air was so hot and wet it felt heavy; I was sweltering within a few minutes, dripping with a mixture of sweat and condensation.
Ghassoul: The Hammam Body Scrub
I felt very dozy by the time an attendant took me by the hand and led me back into the washroom for the ghassoul. Thanks to my last experience, I was ready for this; a lady armed with a scratchy exfoliating Hamam Mitt and a bar of African Black Soap scrubbed me from head to toe with unwavering enthusiasm.
Looking down, I saw big bits of what looked like soggy grey couscous coating my arms and legs. My dead skin was coming off in big, disgusting clumps.
As before, I was surprised how much skin I was shedding, but not as much as the lady scrubbing me. She was nearly in hysterics, and kept proudly showing my arms to all the other hammam girls that came through. Apparently, I’m extra flaky, even for a Westerner!
Feeling I’d shed about a stone of weight, I slipped back into the hammam room. The aim is to let the heat and steam unclog your newly opened pores. Another long wait left my head stuffy and my senses dulled, but in a pleasant, sleepy way. Eventually, I was led out with two other girls for a massage.
Massage at Hammam Ziani Marrakech
We lay on beds covered with plastic mats which were wet from the condensation in the air, and coated with a generous layer of Argan Oil. Each move threatened to send me shooting ungraciously off the slippery bed and onto the wall. I wondered if the masseur would send me on my way at the end by simply tapping my head and firing me through the door!
But the massage was one of the best I’ve ever had. The young, friendly masseuse seemed to know just by looking exactly where I ached. She spent ten minutes working on my left ankle, which is always stiff, but only a few seconds on the right.
The term ‘full-body massage’ usually means back, arms, legs, and a little on the tummy… but not in Morocco. Every inch of my body was massaged! Between my toes, my neck, face and head, my boobs, my bum… even my armpits!
But when she reached my upper back, that’s when I fell in love with the massage. Clearly angry at my stress, the girl attacked my shoulder blades with aggressive force. It hurt, and I nearly asked her to stop. But then something clunked in my back and… it felt like a weight had been lifted. I hadn’t even known I’d had a problem, but whatever it was, she fixed it. I left the hammam feeling like a new woman!
A Final Wash
When the massage ended, I was led by the hand again back into the washroom. I was still so lubed up that I genuinely couldn’t stay still on the stool! When the girl set about washing me I slipped forwards with each motion. In the end, I held the table beside me for balance, gripping for dear life with my slippery fingers.
You might think it would be awkward, sitting on a stool in just a pair of pants – which had been hoisted up into a thong shape to make washing easier – being washed by another woman who couldn’t even speak my language. But I was so dozy with the heat and so relaxed by the massage that I was beyond caring.
I felt like a baby! It helps that the girls at Hammam Ziani Marrakech are so friendly and welcoming as to seem almost motherly. Sitting with my eyes tightly shut, having my hair shampooed in a warm, dark, room, I felt so cosy and looked after. It was just one of the nicest experiences of my life, not awkward, not sexy, not unpleasant… just nice!
Refreshed and Relaxed
Once I’d had what seemed like all the water in Morocco slopped over me by the bucket-load and had been deemed thoroughly rinsed, I was slipped into a fluffy gown and shooed back to the dressing room to change.
Then, I wandered into the opulently decorated reception room, where the rest of my group had already gathered. We lounged on comfy sofas and sipped sweet mint tea, giggling as we compared experiences.
The room was dimly lit, but just a little brighter than the hammam’s dark interior, as though to give us time to readjust back to the light before heading out into the brilliantly sunny city. Which I felt I never wanted to do!
When I eventually emerged into the real world, I did so with indescribably softer skin and zero tension in my back. I just wish I could head back to Hammam Ziani every week to rid myself of the stress of work!
Open 7 days a week 7am – 10pm, prices starting from 50Dh.
Address: 14, Rue Riad Zitoune jdid, Marrakech Medina (next to Bahia Palace)
You can recreate the hammam experience at home with some rhassoul/ghassoul clay, like this Organic Natural Rhassoul Clay, a tub or bar of African Black Soap and a bottle of high-quality Argan Oil. Grab your exfoliating mitts and treat yourself!