Hamam Al-Hana: entertainment and a good scrub [Archives:2008/1212/Culture]
One of the inherited architectural constructions from the Turks is the Turkish bath or hamam. There are hamams for men, and those for women. Large hamams have the two sections, and the entrance to the women side is always discreet or hidden following a conservative tradition of protecting women's privacy. We visited Hamam Al-Hana for women in Al-Asbahi and here are the details.
Despite some archeological discoveries that prove hamams to have existed prior to the Ottoman influence in Yemen, the most popular bath houses today are those built by the Ottomans or copied by Yemenis according to Ottoman tradition. In fact, UNESCO declared in 1986 a number of Yemeni hamams in Sana'a to be world cultural heritage sites.
Originally hamams were built adjacent to places of worship in order to cleanse the body and soul before entering the temple, but today hamams are independent constructions and are not linked to religion.
Most of the hamams built in recent decades are a modified version of the original hamams built by the Ottomans when they were in Yemen. In the Old Town of Sana'a, there are at least fifteen Turkish baths, their low roofs topped by numerous small domes.
The modern modifications are deigned to give the visitors more privacy and space, and the heating system has changed as today's hamams use diesel rather than wood or dung to heat the water and the building.
The hamams are distinguished with a large white dome from the outside. The inside is a cemented structure with various rooms and sinks all being heated from a huge stove-like diesel furnace in the basement. A clever ventilation system through a number of small windows on the ceiling is designed in a way to let the air out, but not in. Lights streams through their panes, although today light bulbs have also been installed.
A good scrub
A lady or more greets visitors at the hamam's entrance, usually a discreet door to the side of the building leading into a reception room with stairs descending to the actual hamam below ground level. The keepers say the indirect entrance is to keep the privacy and protect the bathers from the open air shock after spending hours in a warm humid environment.
The large reception area is a cool dry room where women can undress, keep their clothes in a dry room and negotiate the day's adventure. Entrance fees vary from adults to children. Women pay entrance fee around YR 250 (USD 1.25) and children around YR 50 (USD 0.25). There is no age limit, but very young babies are not allowed into the hotter area. The keepers often sell herbs and scrubs that ladies usually use on their bodies or for their hair. They also offer to give visitors a good scrub for a fee a little higher than the entrance fee. Visitors can buy water and soft drinks during the course of the day.
Wrapped in a towel or wearing a loose skirt around the upper body, women enter a warm steamy area from which several smaller cubicles can be seen. The hamam is a traditional steam bath of two heating levels and different settings. The one in the center is used by latecomers when all the inside cubicles are reserved or occupied by those who want a break from the heat and steam. There are no doors in the hamam, except for the toilets and curtains for small showers rooms.
Each room has a cement sink in its four corners where a tap runs with warm water. Visitors have to bring their toiletries and a mug for pouring water on themselves. When they are comfortable and soaked in the steam, the scrubbing gradually begins and those who want to apply henna or ghasl [a mixture rocks and herbs] on their hair do so. The keepers offer to scrub visitors, and do a very good job of getting all the dirt out.
Women apply a number of mixtures containing natural ingredients such as yogurt, olive oil or even egg on their bodies for cleaner smoother skin, all the while exchanging beauty tips as they do so.
Gossip and bride hunting
Not only is the hamam a good place to get clean and relax, it is also an excellent opportunity for gossip. The keepers explain that they hear many stories about the women and their lives. It is a place for women to talk about their problems without reservations, even if some of the women who meet each other in the baths will not necessarily cross paths again.
\”I instantly know what kind of a person it is