The beginning of our time in Marrakech was a whirlwind and to be truthful we were feeling a little drained. We felt we needed to slow down and take in a bit more of the city so we decided to visit the Bahia palace, a hammam and the Saadian tombs over the next two days. This left us plenty of time for relaxing and drinking tea in various cafés.
The Bahia palace directly translated as the magnificent palace, was built in the 1860’s by Morrocos best artisans and later used as the residence of the general of the French protectorate. We enjoyed meandering around the tiled courtyard, marvelling at thecarved ceilings and wandering in the gardens but it was not as magnificent as we had hoped. Still worth a visit and a contrast to the badi palace.
The Saadian tombs are a collection of 170 tombs dating from the 1600’s which were rediscovered behind the mosque purely by coincidence. The tombs were constructed under Sultan Al-mansour who believed he would take his court and possessions with him into the afterlife. The most impressive part is the Chamber of the 12 pillars where Al-Mansour is buried but also quite interesting is the mausoleum of his mother which is highly decorated. We queued to see the chamber of the 12 pillars and had only a brief time to admire the extravagant decoration. It was hard to beleive that after being boarded up this site in the centre of Marrakesh lay hidden for hundreds of years.
Our first experiences of a hammam are certainly something we won’t forget and although we didn’t use the public hammam like the locals we both felt we got a rather authentic experience. Traditionally hammams were used like a public bathhouse with women and men visiting at separate times. A typical visit would include a steam room followed by a body scrub and thorough washing. For an extra fee a massage can be included and an attendant to perform all of the scrubbing and washing. Locals usually pay 10-20 Dirham for entrance and around 50 Dirham for an attendant to wash and scrub them. As usual the tourist price varies with hammams offering all sorts of treatments and price tags. We would both recommend a visit to hamam ziani where prices start at 150 Dirham for a steam, scrub and wash. We opted to include a 40 minute massage too and negotiated a special deal of 200 Dirham each (unfortunately Ted wasn’t allowed in and he wouldn’t have wanted his fur scrubbed anyway). We had slightly different experiences, so we would like to share both a male and female hammam experience with you:
For the ladies: I was led into a changing area and offered very skimpy bikini bottoms before being led into a domed room lacking steam. A motor started up and the steam flooded into the room, here I relaxed, unable to see the other side, until a lady came and took me by the hand. Next I was lathered up and washed (pretty sure no one has washed me since I was a child). Then the attendant asked me to lie on the marble bed and proceeded to scrub my entire body until she couldn’t get any more skin off, tickling my feet in the process. Afterwards she repeated the washing process and led me to the massage room. The full body massage was indeed full and included hitting the soles of my feet, massaging my stomach and also a facial massage. Covered in massage oils (including the miraculous argan oil) I was led back to the washing area where my hair and body were thoroughly washed. After drying my newly polished body, I relaxed in the chillout room waiting for Matthias and mint tea.
For the men: First things first; men only wear a towel around their waist. Nothing else and nothing underneath. This was put on me by the attendant while I got changed. After a quick shower I was led into the domed steam room to relax and soften up. Unlike Zoë I didn’t hear the motor. The attendant got me after about 10min for the scrubbing. Lying on a thin plastic mattress, I got scrubbed from neck to toes. It felt a bit strange to begin with but I got used to it quickly. The scrubbing was followed by another shower and then we moved to the other room for the massage. This was my first ever full body massage and the guy really went for it. He must have used half a bottle of massage oil. In comparison to my previous massages this one seemed to last for ever and was very relaxing even despite the strange smell of the massage bed. After the oiling I had another shower before sweating some more even though it took a bit for the steam to come back on. The only thing I wished for at this point was some shower gel or at least shampoo to get the oil out of my hair. One last shower completed my first ever hamam experience and I went back to get changed again.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the back of the medina and watching the world go by while sitting in cafes.