How an ancient Arabian bathing ritual became the spa treatment de rigueur.
For those ancient nomadic humans wandering through the biting cold Neolithic Age who discovered how revitalized they felt after bathing their entire bodies in a warm, volcanic heated pool of water, it must have been a highlight of their societal gatherings. Tens of thousands of years have since passed and with it new cultural and regional bathing rituals have evolved; but in essence the reverence to soaking in a hot bath has changed little.
Not far from present day Abu Dhabi, the world’s earliest known public bath was discovered in the lost city of Mohenjo-daro, in the Indus Valley. Built around 2,500 BC the large pool was constructed of brick and may also have been used as a temple linking bathing and cleanliness to religious beliefs. This may have been the origins of the hammam, the oldest surviving bath tradition in the world.
A hammam is a designated bathing area whereby visitors are washed through a ritualized cleansing procedure that dates back to the days of the Roman Empire. The ancient Greeks highly regarded the act of bathing, with citizens making weekly visits to the nearby bathhouses in order to cleanse and purify themselves. Much importance was placed on cleanliness during antiquity and the activity was soon adopted into Arabic culture, especially given the importance surrounding ablution before prayer. Variants of the procedure were developed by the Moroccan and Turkish cultures that are still practiced today. Bathhouses around the Arab world were, similar to those in ancient Rome, places of social gathering.
While the ritualized ceremony was and remains a weekly event celebrated with friends and family throughout the Middle East, major spas have infused the hammam experience with modern day products and know-how. Modern spas focus on how the hammam ritual exfoliates the skin, helping it to breathe more easily thus increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to the body. Today’s hammam aficionados recognize that regular hammam visits are beneficial for tackling the effects of stress, cellulite, poor circulation and dry skin.
A typical hammam will consist of three bathing rituals named after the interconnected rooms in which you move: camekan, hararet and soğukluk. Starting the experience you typically enter the grandiose warm room, the camekan, to remove your clothes and receive a peştemal, a special thin cloth to cover your body, and nalın, wooden slippers. You’ll be escorted to the hararet, the main hot room, where under a dome decorated with small glass windows that create a room of half-light, you lay on a warm, raised marble platform. As you start perspiring the pores of your skin open and your masseur will begin to scrub vigorously to wash away dead skin cells with a thin cloth and traditional soap of olive paste. Then follows an extensive scrub with a rough mitten and rounds of rinsing until you are guided to the soğukluk, or cool room, where you receive a drink, dry towel to wrap up in and where you can finally lie down on a bed to nap, as content bathers have done for thousands of years.
For one’s own well-being and exposure to a deeply cultural experience, a visit to a hammam is simply not to be missed when visiting the Middle East.
At Sense, A Rosewood Spa in Abu Dhabi, visitors can indulge in the treatment in one of two signature treatment rooms dedicated to the cleansing ritual.