By Andrew Taylor
In Tunisia, a Hammam is a traditional public bathhouse. It is a place to bathe, relax, and socialise. Although you will still find a Hammam in every town, there are fewer around these days, since the availability of modern plumbing has allowed people to bath in their own homes.
At large Hammams, there are separate entrances for men and women. Some smaller bathhouses may cater exclusively for one gender. You will not find mixed gender public Hammams. Some hotels have their own private bathhouses.
When visiting a Hammam you should take with you a swimsuit or extra underwear, a fresh change of clothing, your favorite shampoo and conditioner, a scrubbing mitt and a beautiful handmade soap. It is also acceptable for ladies to bathe in their bras.
Some Hammams will sell small bottles of shampoo and guest soaps but since your visit will be something to remember why not make it a complete experience and before you travel, buy your own special soap?!
The soap that is traditionally used in Hammams is black soap, such as Tadé Savon noir du Hammam – Hammam Black Soap. It is used to cleanse, tone and exfoliate. With clay for drawing out impurities, laurel oil to disinfect and sea salt to exfoliate this soap is truly worth taking with you.
You will also be given a Fouta towel for your visit. Fouta Towels (pronounced foo-ta) are traditionally offered at Tunisian Hammams and are sometimes known as French Towels, Spa Towels or Turkish Towels. They are used like a towel, to cover your body and to dry yourself.
Your Hammam visit will cost around 10 dirham (AU$1). You should expect to tip your masseuse (if you have a massage) 10 - 15 dirham (AU$1 - $1.50) and it is also customary to tip the attendant 1 or 2 dirham as you leave.
A visit to a Hammam is a truly wonderful experience. I highly suggest doing some research before you go so that you have a good understanding about Hammam etiquette and ensure your experience is one to remember.
While on holiday, you will have plenty of opportunities to buy a Fouta from a local artisan. Foutas were traditionally worn by Moroccan desert nomadic people called Berbers. Nowadays the Fouta towel is famous all around the world. A fashionable trend in Europe for many years, they are growing in popularity in Australia as an alternative to the traditional ‘toweling’ beach towel. Today they are still hand-woven by local artisans on large looms with the men operating the heavy looms while the women add the finishing touch of hand knotted fringing.
Luxuriously large (2 metres x 1 metre), each Fouta is hand woven from 100% Egyptian cotton and is fully machine washable. Foutas are very absorbent and don’t pick up unwanted sand. The more you use them, the softer and more absorbent they become. They are so much more than just a highly absorbent towel! They are very versatile and can be used for the beach, pool, spa, picnic, travelling or as a wrap, blanket, throw or tablecloth. Once you have owned one, you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
Even if you do not plan on visiting a Hammam, you can indulge and find both black soap and Foutas online. Farmer Drew has a wonderful selection of genuine Tunisian Fouta towels available and ready to be posted Australia-wide. Tadé Savon noir du Hammam – Hammam Black Soap is available at Savons d’ailleurs.
Andrew Taylor is the founder of Farmer Drew - The Market Basket Specialist and The Fouta Project. You can visit Farmer Drew's online shop at www.farmerdrew.com.au and meet Andrew every Sunday at The Noosa Farmers Market, 155 Weyba Road, Noosaville from 6am - Noon.
The Fouta Project also has an online shop at www.thefoutaproject.com.au and is at Peregian Beach Market the first and third Sunday of every month from 7am - 12.30pm.
Note: Called "Moorish bath" (in reference to the Muslim Al-Andalus Spain) and "Turkish bath" by Westerners, the Hammam (or 'hot water' in Arabic) is a moist steam bath drawing its origins from the Roman baths. In its current form, the hammam developed in the Ottoman Empire, from the Maghreb countries to the Middle East (s.a. in Syria) through the expansion of Islam. The Hammam was indeed adapted to the precepts of Islam which advocates a meticulous hygiene and regular washing especially before the ritual prayers.