One of the most fascinating holdovers from antiquity in Southern Spain is the Hamman, or Arab Baths. These baths are actually descended from the Roman bathhouses, and were picked up by Islamic culture with it’s emphasis on purity and ritual bathing. There are ruins of Arabs Baths in several cities in Andalusia, my favorite being in Ronda – a nearly perfectly preserved bathhouse, complete with roof pierced by skylights and niches for steaming.
I was surprised to find that there were still functioning Hammans in several cities along my route – Cordoba, Granada, and of all places Madrid – where you could experience the timeless ritual of steaming, bathing, and massage. I was determined to live my inner Arab princess and enjoy a day at the baths.
It should surprise no one but me, but I didn’t manage it. Somehow I kept putting it off to the next day, the next day… there was so much to see! And to my dismay I never did go.
I have come home, however, determined to re-create the Hamman experience at home as best I could (in keeping with the Constant Holiday philosophy). I did some research on the web to get an idea of the proccess, and consulted my copy of Tony Perrottet’s excellent book on eastern travel (both modern and ancient) “Pagan Holiday”, from which the above quote comes.
The point of the Roman or Hamman Bath is not just cleanliness but relaxation and even socialisation. People often went to the baths in groups in ancient times, and the proccess could take all day, with meals, exercise and beauty treatments part of the experience.
For my own “home-style Hamman” I’ve taken to filling my tub about a quarter of the way with hot water and bath salts, both to give my feet a good soak and to fill the room with the gentle steam that is a feature of the bath (unlike the strong heat of a sauna). One website suggested placing herbs in the hot water, which I plan to try. After washing my feet and legs, I can either fill the tub the rest of the way and soak some more, or switch back to the shower and use my best smelling bath gels and scrubs. The scrub down is an integral step in the bath experience, and leaves you feeling soft and incredibly clean.
I finish off with a liberal rubdown with a scented oil, instead of a lotion, to seal in all that moisture and make me feel more authentic. Sadly I have had to do without the full-body massage that closes a real Hamman bath, but I’ll have to talk to my boyfriend about that. One never knows. I’ll never get him in a turban, though.