The hammam rituals are all about cleansing and relaxing, leaving your body and soul rejuvenated and nurtured.
Also known as the Turkish bath, before the days of plumbing, these centralized bathing complexes were near natural sources of running water.
A daily ritual, it offered a place to catch up on the latest news and celebrate occasions. At first the hammam was strictly for men, but over time women considered it their daily escape from being isolated at home. In fact, if her husband prohibited her to visit the hammam, it was a legitimate reason for a woman to file for divorce.
Originating in Arabia, bath culture was a central part of Roman life, however Turkey popularized the tradition and brought it to the masses.
Intro to Hammam
A quick visit to Winnipeg, Manitoba seems an unlikely place to get my Hammam introduction. The Ten Spa at the Fort Garry Hotel is a world class spa. I can’t speak highly enough about the absolutely amazing experience they provided. Not sure what to expect, I left in awe.
The bright blue and white modern reception belies the cocooning experience awaiting behind the ten foot high glass and chrome doorway. Trading my street shoes for a wicker basket with my accurately sized brown sandals began the experience of a century old tradition.
Led into a marble dressing area containing lockers with customized electronic self-coding, mirror lined beauty stations were filled with any beautifying accoutrement you might desire; combs, curling irons, blow dryers, styling gels and pomades. I was provided with a plush white terry dressing gown, large enough for the plus size woman I am and two linen towels.
My first stop, a relaxing shower, but this shower was like no other. As if stepping into the shining azure blue sea, the mini tiled cocoon, just big enough to turn around, twinkled with mauve and blues as I hung my robe inside the glass doored cubby built into one wall.
Turning the chrome dials, my body was caressed with rain like water from all directions. L’Occitane body cleanser, shampoo and conditioner and I felt clean and refreshed for the first of what would be many times this day. Drying off is invigorated with a gorgeous white, thick Turkish waffle weave towel with just enough texture to stimulate the skin.
Next I moved into the experiential steam room, which incorporates light, aroma and brine therapies. All around the room rose curved tiled benches with a raised pedestal on which
rested a sleek steel vessel sending up plumes of steam. All one heard was the hiss of the sweet smelling steam snaking up into the cloud of steam billowing at the roof. A silver button released a mist of fine brine from the ceiling. Raising my face to the mist, I felt all tension melt away in the warmth. The pores on my body retracted and my skin felt like silk. My expectations of saunas have forever changed.
Onto a different type of shower, this one reminding me of a snail case, you step into the brown and cream tiled aisle and walk back into
the curve of the shower where two computer generated mists cooling mint and/or eucalyptus tropical, rain down at the push of buttons. So refreshing were the sprays I enjoyed the sensation five times before I made my retreat.
Every time you need to dry there are stacks of the thick pure white, blanket sized towels waiting. I slipped back into my robe. Gleaming glass doors opened and I stepped into a hallway, the darkness of dusk, the walls lit with banks of candles. A wine bar on one side, there are delightful treats awaiting to re-sustenance. Spicy mounds of hummus, bright red cherry tomatoes, thick slices of fresh cucumber, dark brown orbs of figs, dried apricots, and crisp slices of pita were all washed down with delightful mint tea. All the while, sitting draped on huge divans of cream leather lounging furniture fit for a queen. Not regular size, the depth was so that your feet would stretch out in front of you if you sat back. Quiet groupings of people relaxed and talking quietly or read magazines chosen from the six foot long reading bench, waiting to be called on to their treatment.
After relaxing for twenty minutes, I met my attendant. Moving into another cozy oblong room with the curved and heated tiled benches as in the steam room, there was a thin slice of table raising up in the center. On it, was a clear mug of tea and a slice of pottery with two pieces of house made Turkish delight. The tea was to warm me from within, the sweetness of the Turkish delight to fortify me for my journey. Caitlin was very knowledgeable and shared the history of the hammam and explained the next part of the ritual.
Changing from my robe, I was given two pestemal, long oblong scarves of fringed cotton. One tied around my breasts and the other around my hips, this is the traditional covering used for the rest of my experience. Her words, “I will lead you in and you may need a moment to adjust to the darkness.” did not prepare me for the ancient exotic world I entered.
The door opened and my senses were immediately attuned to the sounds of water running, exotic Middle Eastern music serenading, and incense like fragrance wafting in warm moist waves. As my eyes adjusted to the steam filled darkness, a large marble slab rose over to one side, and a lapis tiled horseshoe shaped bench around a pedestal of spigots on the other. Marble cistern like basins spilling water to the floor, between rounded tile benches, slowly emerged from the mist. I was immediately transported to another time.
Sitting on the bench was a silver bowl filled with coarse sea salt containing seven essential oils beside a silver water bottle and thus my journey to bliss began. Sitting down on the warm seat, I rubbed the sea salt on my body taking care not to get it on the delicate skin of the face and chest. After washing my hands in the coldness of the spigot water, I was led to the gobek tasi, a huge marble slab the size of my living room and heated to about 42 degrees C. I sat on the edge, then laid back and scooted up until only my feet hung over the edge. It was then I felt the heat radiating up from the marble. My attendant moved to the marble basins and drawing bowls of water began to rinse my body of the salt. But
rinse does not describe the luxury of the water. At first I thought there was oil in the water. It had a lavish weight to it as combinations of cold, warm and lukewarm water rolled over my body in undulating waves. Some on top and some released from the sides to slide underneath the curves of my body between the marble. She told me the feeling comes from the round shape of the copper bowls called tas and the way the water is poured.
Then kneeling at my head, she began to give me a head massage that really could not be described. All the attendants are registered massage therapists, and she was definitely at the top of her game. A combination of gentle circular motions and pressure, moving around and around my head, I could easily have slept. Every few minutes, again, I would experience a wash of poured water which kept me from getting too warm from the marble and yet kept me warm from the steam filled room. A stainless basin of cool water at my side, held a refreshing cool cloth for my forehead and my water bottle kept cool in the center of it. Then she moved down to massage my legs and feet. And the bliss continued as I totally melted into the sensations of the sounds, the hard marble and the softness on my skin.
Sitting up I was led over to one of the side benches by the cistern to start to cool down using the copper round bowls to wash over my head. And thus ended the grommage part of my Intro to Hammam. There are a variety of grommage options including pure olive oil sabun soaps and full body exfoliation with rough kese mitts and brush.
A shock of coolness hit me as I was l lead back into the room temperature center room. I cozied into the now familiar thick towels and re-robed. Then through dazzling iridescent strands of cords, into another night lit pampering room for a period of cool down. Filled with the familiar cream large leather loungers, this room had huge yak fur like pillows, mile high crisp linen ensconced king size pillows and soft blankets, you were invited to stretch out and nap, I was served a small glass of Ayran, a yogurt based drink which replaces salt in your body. You lose moisture and salt during your hour grommage.
As I relaxed and watched the shadows of attendants scurry up and down the hall outside the glowing corded curtains, I could easily imagine being a queen, waited on hand and foot, in the palace of Knossos, a favorite place I love on my husband’s island of Crete, Greece.
My experience was not to end there, next I heard my name softly called for the final treat of the day. A warm rose oil massage with Brittany.
You may know that the rose essential oil is prized because it takes 10,000 roses or 22 pounds of rose petals to make a 5 mil bottle, roughly the size of your thumb. Luxurious, this massage rehydrated my skin, leaving it dewy soft.
Led back into the cool down room, I was invited to take more nourishment with tea and relax as long as I wanted. They actually have a package where you can spend the whole day inside the pampered rooms and steam room.
Back in the marble dressing room, I marvelled at the wonderful experience as I dressed and prepared to step back through the glass and chrome doors to reality. For my next house, I plan to build it around a bathing room with a raised heated marble slab in the center. Pleasure enough for a lifetime, you must try the hammam if you can.
This exotic practice is slow coming to North America, I am aware of three in Canada. Vancouver, Toronto and Winnipeg.