The History of the Hammam

By Jo Phillips

With the weather getting increasingly gruelling as the holidays approach, you might be planning a way to treat yourself. Why not visit a bath house and experience one of mankind’s oldest way to pamper oneself?

A place for relaxation, hygiene and socialising, the Hammam, or Turkish Bath as it’s commonly known, has been a multi-functional detail of human civilisation for numerous centuries. Although rooted in the ancient traditions of Greek and Roman bath houses, the Hammam was introduced to Islamic culture as a means for people to cleanse themselves before prayer; Hammams are therefore usually found near mosques. Whilst the Romans built their bath houses as huge complexes for local civilians to gather and gossip, the Hammam is a smaller design, built for tranquility and purification. 2449747509_12440b0cd6_b

There are other differences which separate Greco-Roman bathing habits to Middle-Eastern ones. Strongly influenced by Muslim teachings, the Turkish bath house rejects the Ancient Roman tradition of submerging oneself in cold water, for example. Instead, guests in the Hammam will wash themselves with running cold water so as to not bathe in stagnant, and what is said to be dirty, water. However, they do share the idea of ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ rooms which serve to encourage perspiration and exfoliation before massages and cold baths.


Another striking difference was the treatment of gender-exclusivity. Whilst Greco-Roman public baths were spaces for both women and men (at the same time), the Hammam was primarily a male-only place. Modesty’s important position in Islamic teaching is one of the main reasons for this. Contrary to the Orientalist idea that Middle-Eastern baths were sexual and decadent, the Hammam actually discouraged men from bathing with women due to the belief that the mixing of genders would promote inappropriate and unclean thoughts. As time progressed, an idea emerged which theorised that warm air aided fertility, leading to the allowance of women using these bath houses.

Nowadays, Hammams can be found all over the world and be used by anyone. For those in London, why not check out the historical Hotel Café Royal, whose spa, the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre is a stunning urban retreat with a modern Hamam, large  pool, fully equipped gym, schedule of classes from leading experts and offering signature treatments.

Established in Victorian England, the hotel has received visits from icons such as Oscar Wilde, Richard Burton, Mick Jagger and members of the royal family. However if that all feels a little too healthy why not visit  the Oscar Wilde Bar (formerly the iconic Grill Room, established 1865) – the jewel of Hotel Café Royal which exquisitely restored  and is now the place to enjoy Afternoon Tea.

Browse what its spa has to offer here.

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