The latest in spa trends, the hammam room (otherwise known as the Turkish bath) is the Middle Eastern equivalent of a steam bath. It’s similar to a sauna in that it’s a communal room heated by a continuous flow of hot air (minus the coals), but is more closely related to ancient Greek and Roman bathing practices.
Traditionally, the bather starts in the hot room, splashes themselves with cold water, performs a full-body wash, and then receives a massage before finally heading to the cooling room for a period of rest and relaxation. Though I didn’t indulge in the massage, I figured this couldn’t be a half-bad way to spend my Sunday.
I robed up in the changing room and slipped into some jelly sandals before heading in. It was far larger than I expected, completely tiled and consisting of a series of platforms at different levels, a sink in the middle of the room, and a shower in the corner. Ambient music played in the background and a fountain trickled down an inlaid rock wall. A handful of people were on different platforms around the room, either on their backs or with their legs up against the wall. I noticed they were using rolled-up towels as neck pillows, so I found a platform of my own and did the same (all while trying to hide that this was my first time).
After settling into my spot and taking a few deep breaths, I immediately noticed that the air and humidity were more comparable to a jungle climate than the dry air of a sauna. The heat was also a lot more gradual and somehow more relaxing, and it took me far longer to reach my limit. When I had enough, I rinsed my face and neck with cold water from the sink and headed to the Zen lounge, which consisted of couches for reclining and pitchers of fruit-infused ice water and tea for rehydrating. The difference in temperature between the warm, wet room and this air-conditioned lounge was a refreshing jolt and left my skin feeling tingly and refreshed.
I left convinced that the ancient Greeks and Romans definitely knew how to relax in style. There’s no need to splurge and go all-out on a full-body massage as long as this tiled oasis exists. Consider me a lifer. This was a far, far better choice than staying in and doing my laundry all day.
By Grace Romanowsky, Staff Writer
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