Dawn Gibson looks into the history of the hammam and experiences a right royal ritual.
To hammam or not to hammam? There is no question. Whether you are new to Qatar or a long-time resident, it would be neglectful to live in this part of the world and not take part in a cleansing ritual that dates back over 2000 years.
A part of life in the Islamic world for centuries, hammam translates from the Arabic to mean simply ‘‘bathroom’’ or ‘‘public bath place.’’ In Doha, there are some amazingly beautiful hammams featuring gorgeous traditional décor and the opportunity to be pampered from head to toe.
I decide to try Elements Spa, a jewel of a beauty retreat within the Al Jasra Boutique Hotel, on the fringe of Souq Waqif.
Is it good for you?
Let’s put it this way – you will never feel as clean as after a hammam. The ritual has numerous benefits for your skin and overall health, according to Elements Spa manager Rawand Al Khayyat, so it’s no wonder that royal and noble folk in times past were big fans. ‘Most people have a hammam because it’s luxurious and good for the body,’ she says. ‘It removes toxins and improves blood circulation, as well as removing dead skin to show new skin, which is softer and smoother.’
History of the hammam
The tradition stems back to the Stone Age, when nomadic people soaked in hot springs for their healing powers. However, it was the Romans who really started the fashion for public baths, which continued in the eastern Mediterranean for centuries. The Ottoman Turks were particularly fond of hammams and built them throughout their empire, hence the alternative name of Turkish bath.
Hammams are also strongly associated with Morocco, though they are an intrinsic part of bathing culture in countries from Egypt to Cyprus and Iraq to Syria.
Fit for a queen – or a sultan
Elements Spa features a traditional Moroccan hammam facility, an opulent haven of marble, tile, water and steam. Rhassoul, a mineral clay mined in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains since the eighth century, is used for the skin and the hair.
I am having the indulgent Royal Hammam, a 90-minute treatment which promises to leave me with silky skin.
I start with a lie-down in a wooden sauna. Therapist Dinhthi Hue, a petite Vietnamese lady, materialises after about five minutes and leads me to the hammam. I sit on a tiled bench as Hue gently covers my body in soap, washing it off with bucket after bucket of warm water.
Steam drifts up from the floor as she works. Hue then produces a kessa, an exfoliating glove, and gives me a scrub down, leaving my skin tingling.
Now, it is time to get messy. I lie on a heated marble bed as Hue applies a rhassoul body mask, which is very muddy. Mud lady me is left for five minutes or so to let the minerals do their magic.
Hue then gives my face and hair the rhassoul treatment. I particularly enjoy when the therapist uses her magic fingers to massage my hairline, making it feel like a row of tiny dancers are pirouetting across my forehead.
She finishes off with a light moisturiser before taking me to a relaxation area, where I sip ginger tea and feel quite the pampered princess.
After the hammam
This isn’t my first hammam – I have been lucky enough to enjoy the ritual in Turkey and Morocco – but it definitely rates among the most enjoyable.
Afterwards, I feel shiny clean and as if I have got rid of a layer of nasty debris. The moisturisation is not heavy but just enough to make my limbs feel velvety. My mind is serene, making it difficult to find the motivation to leave the spa and get on with more mundane activities.
As I emerge from the chic front lobby of Al Jasra, I wonder how many Ottoman sultans have enjoyed being covered in mud quite so much.
Elements Spa offers hammam treatments for men and women. There are two options – the 90-minute Royal Hammam (QR650) and the 60-minute Moroccan Hammam (QR550).
Elements Spa, Al Jasra Boutique Hotel, Souq Waqif, 10am-10pm (4433 6666), firstname.lastname@example.org.