5 Must-Visit Hammams in the Middle East
Historically, in each Arab city there would be three buildings in every neighbourhood: a school, a mosque and a hammam. While the modern spa may have updated the look a little, it’s still not hard to get a slice of history and comfort in most corners of the region. Here are five of the best in which to enjoy a vigorous scrub.
1. Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, Istanbul
Originally built as a mosque and school by famed Ottoman admiral Kilic Ali Pasha between 1578 and 1583, this majestic hammam, which sits right on Istanbul’s historic Tophane harbour district, took seven years to restore. It was worth the wait: today’s building hosts not only an authentic bathing experience – for men and women – but a boutique and special events. That’s unsurprising given the Kilic Ali Pasha’s understated beauty and decadence, topped off by its ground-floor resting area, surrounded by ancient stonework and art. A must-visit in newly-trendy Karaköy, which overlooks the Bosphorus Strait.
2. Talise Ottoman Spa, Dubai
Another drawing on Ottoman opulence – though this time several hundred miles from the erstwhile empires greatest eastern extent near modern-day Dammam, Saudi Arabia – Jumeirah’s Talise Spa hammers home Dubai’s place as a destination for the ultimate R&R tourist. Set among the Madinat Jumeirah’s gentle waterways, Talise boasts 26 treatment rooms, including three couples’ suites offering a wide range of massages and other treatments.
3. Sultana Spa, Marrakech
Morocco’s labyrinthine city of Marrakech might just be the best place on earth to visit a hammam, or a spa. Its tangled medina, famed for its multi-coloured riads and market stalls, is home to several. But for the city’s ultimate space you should head just outside to the Kasbah district. Beside the ornate, 16-century Saadian Tombs, Sultana Spa offers traditional hammam bathing options, as well as high-end treatments like cinnamon body scrubs and full-body massages. When you’re done there’s a panoramic terrace to take in stunning sights –including the Koutoubia Mosque and Badii Palace – and a heated pool if the summer air packs a little too much heat.
4. Al-Pasha Turkish Bath, Amman
If you prefer a traditional scrub-down to an all-in massage location, Amman’s Al-Pasha Turkish Bath is the place for you. Located near the city’s high-slung citadel, home to its magnificent Roman amphitheatre, the Al-Pasha is an understated slice of the traditional Arabic city that hides beneath Amman’s increasingly wealthy and westernised skyline. Its central relaxation area, styled as if an Ottoman-era mosque, has enough room for dozens of men and women, and offers scrubs and massages that will leave you feeling as if you’ve lost pounds of flesh (but in a good way).
5. Hammam El Kachachine, Tunis
Right in the heart of Tunis’ ancient medina sits Hammam El Kachachine, one of the city’s oldest functioning bathhouses for men. You’ll have to walk through a barbershop to get to it, and the signage is minimal – clues that this place has been around for a long, long time indeed. Once inside, you’re thrown into a bare-bones, but colourful, hammam where locals who look like they’ve been scrubbing weary bodies for centuries will wash you down and leave you sweaty and deliriously clean. What’s more, you’ll be doing the city a favour: many of its hammams are under threat from bigger spas, and few turn a profit. The medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but that may still not save its bathhouses. Do Tunis – and yourself – a solid and head inside.