Friday, October 22, 2010

Damascus : The Public Bath of Courage

What's hidden behind this curtain?

I wish I had more pictures to show here, but this is the only one I have.

So, where does this entrance lead you?

Well, behind this curtain, there is a door that leads to Hammam Ammoonah.

To enter you need to ring the doorbell and then after verifying you're a female they'll let you in. Oh, this is a women's hammam so it's off limits for men. The door is not even marked nor is there a signboard or a signage, we actually almost missed it the first time.

From its pamphlet :

Built in the 12th Century A.D., this authentic public bath was formerly known as "Hammam Shooja" (The Public Bath Of Courage) until the late 18th century when it was renamed to its present day name. During the Ottoman era, Hamman Ammoonah was classified amongst the cleanest public baths in the city of Damascus; however it was completely neglected in the later periods. In an endearing effort to maintain its hereditary value, we have fully restored and renovated this historic space with our personal touch, hoping to provide you with an authentic bathing experience.

One of the to-do things in my list was to try out a hammam.

The experience at Ammoonah?

For 850 SYP, you get bathed, body-scrubbed, foot-scrubbed, rubbed and massaged. Plus a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo and scrubbing pad, and refreshment.

The bossy lady who appeared to be the one in-charge explained the services - first a sauna, then you bathe (hot and cold water available, not shower), followed by scrubbing, bathe again, rubbing, then bathe again. It was still kind of confusing at first, maybe they expected you to know what to do and where to go?

Ooo-er, this is not for the bashful. They don't call it the Public Bath of Courage for nothing! One can strip buck naked, or opt to leave your undies on for modesty. They do provide you a towel but that comes straight off as you enter the bathing area.

Inside (the reason why no cameras are allowed, except in the sitting area) there were women in assorted sizes, shape, colour, all subjecting themselves to the skilled and experience hands of the Hammam staff.

You definitely need a HUGE DOSE OF COURAGE for this, it is one thing to get naked and another to undergo the seemingly barbaric scrubbing.

The lady who does the scrubbing did so with such vigour and enthusiasm that I felt my skin probably got scrubbed off together with the layer of dead skin and dirt that's caked on it. OOWWWWWWW! was my reaction the first few seconds. After I got used to the level of pain (yes, just a little bit, after that it was tolerable) I find myself trying hard not to giggle and laugh out loud :) Yeah, it got kind of ticklish, haha.

The scrubbing lady was built like a 2-tonne truck with huge strong arms (think wrestler!). There were two of them and I thought, hey which one is gentler? She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed and pulled my limbs up down and to the sides - I switched off, stopped myself from thinking and feeling anything and just allowed her to do her job.

Now I know what piece of meat feels like. As I lay face down on the wet floor, face literally millimetres away from the surface, I saw the water flowing with bits of dirt with it and thought : where does all this water flow out to? Is this floor clean? Is the scrubbing pad clean? What if it's dirty? (horror!) Is she laughing at my body? What does she think of those callouses on my feet? My toes!? How many thousand bodies has she scrubbed? And yadda yadda yadda my brain asked endless questions.

And during all these, other girls are entering and exiting the bathing area. I think all of us were quite conscious of being naked/almost naked, best thing to do is lower your gaze and maybe try to avoid eye-contact? There were some tourists just like us, and we exchanged amused looks throughout.

Once you're done you exit the bathing area and go to rest at the elevated sitting area while they serve you drinks of your choice, hot or cold.

This gives you a chance to recover from the shock and horror, check out your limbs and body for bruises or signs of abuse, and hey! There is none! You aren't even beet red after all that scrubbing. The skin does look clearer and feel much smoother. No pain no gain? You bet.

You know what, after this experience, I'd go to a hammam again in a heartbeat. If they only have them in Malaysia that's affordable.

And the scrubbing lady must look like a wrestler for maximum effectiveness :)


  1. Cool. Something new to me. I wish they had it for men and I'd definitely wanna go. Jeez, u really is opening my eyes up to consider a trip to places that I've never planned of going Aud. Now that's what we call thrill. :-)

  2. Ahh I should have tried the banya in Russia or hammam in Morocco but it was super hot when we were there! (Besides, I cannot stand sauna even here). I laughed out loud when I saw Tony Bourdain in a Turkish hammam (was it Turkish) but I sure wouldn't it funny if I'm being scrubbed by the woman you described!

  3. JIPP - there are hammams for men. Must try one day. Watch Ian W and Tony Bourdain's experiences ..hehe ..

    AdekFab - It's one of those things, no matter how silly or crazy or torturous, that I wanted to do :). Not really as hot as an ordinary sauna, it's bearable cos the place is quite spacious.