Naked in Paris: The Hammam at the Grand Mosquée de Paris

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Naked in Paris: The Hammam at the Grand Mosquée de Paris

Photo by Mark Cooper

Have you done everything in Paris – or are you just worn-out with sightseeing? Try the Hammam at the Grande Mosquée de Paris.

The Mosque rose above us in all its gleaming whiteness. The domes and minarets suggested Istanbul, but it was the Grande Mosquée de Paris in the heart of the Latin Quarter. My friend and I walked in through the garden salon de thé (tea-house) at the back of the elegant building. We had come, not to pray, but to go to the Hammam, the best bathhouse in Paris.

I had just finished three weeks of hectic work in Paris – and it was my birthday. I’d never been to the hammam before, but it sounded like a good way to wash away the stress and prepare to celebrate. At the front desk we ordered a scrub and a massage as well, and were handed three tickets (one for the mint tea afterwards), a thin towel not much bigger than a tea towel, and a pouch of savon noire – a dark liquid soap.

Grande Mosquée de Paris, photo by Internal Quack

Grande Mosquée de Paris, photo by: Internal Quack

Feeling conspicuously dressed, we made our way to the changing-room through a maze of naked female bodies being massaged by nearly naked women. The changing-room turned out to be merely a corridor with a row of lockers. No privacy here and no point in being self-conscious – we undressed our middle-aged bodies, stuffed our clothes and wallets in the locker, put a euro in the locker slot and hoped everything would still be there a few hours later.

Towels and tickets in hand, we walked down the hall into the large marble steam room. In the drifting steam, dozens of women, their bodies shining with savon noire, lay, sat, stood or stretched in various states of languid ease. Two golden skinned women lay side-by-side, one on her back, the other on her stomach, as if they were two versions of the same body. On a raised marble platform in the middle, two extraordinarily beautiful young African women lay with their feet up resting on marble poles, looking like they had stepped out of a painting of the exotic Orient. I felt pale, nondescript, graceless.

The minaret, photo by Madorielaoshi

I soon realised there were in fact women of every size, shape, ethnicity and age. I was going to add ‘social class’ but that is a category very difficult to determine when someone is naked. There were elderly pale-skinned Frenchwomen, sturdy middle aged Algerians, lithe African twentysomethings, a few Scandinavian back-packers. Their bodies were tall and thin, short and rounded, pear-shaped, violin-shaped, narrow-hipped, thick waisted, slender, plump, dimpled, bony, wrinkled, smooth. I relaxed, my pale pudgy shape was only a part of the glorious range of female bodies. We all looked different, had startlingly various bodies, but naked in this setting away from the male gaze, we seemed more similar than I had ever noticed. This was what we were all like under our clothes – no more and no less.

Mosaics in the Mosque, photo by: Mark Cooper

Mosaics in the Mosque, photo by Mark Cooper

My friend and I rubbed each other with the savon noire and lay and chatted and dozed. After a while we moved from our side platform to the heated marble one in the center. Water dripped down from the starry midnight blue ceiling as the steam condensed. When we were too hot we threw dishes of cold water over one another from the taps on the wall.

Finally, it was our turn for a gommage – a scrub. A large, strong-looking, North African woman in knickers and bra put on a wiry glove and, without mercy, whisked it up and down my arms, legs, stomach, breasts. My whole body was treated with the same democratic vigor, no matter how soft – or how previously private – the part. I stepped off the table, my body glowing. I was so clean I felt even my soul had been scrubbed free of all stain.

The beautiful Mosque walls, photo by Carlos ZGZ

Next was the massage in the room we had first walked through. There was a short mix up with the tickets, which I confused further with my steam-melted French, then a younger and slimmer, but still muscular woman, oiled her hands and began the rhythmic kneading and rubbing. She chatted in Arabic to the other masseuses as she worked but her hands were attentive.  I lay there dreamy with the heat and the sensation of being purely a body without thought. I could have remained in that blessed infant state all day – but there was already another body waiting to get on the table.

I dressed, feeling as pink and shiny as a baby lifted out of the bath. My friend was ready and waiting. In the cool air of the garden teahouse we found a little table under what might have been a palm tree. A waiter brought us mint tea on an inlaid wooden tray.

The tea gardens, photo by Celette

When we trusted ourselves to walk, we finally drifted out into the freshness of a bright autumn day in Paris. It was my birthday and I felt reborn.

Hammam at the Paris Mosque: The address is listed as Place de Puits L’Ermites, but go in the rue Geoffroy St Hilaire entrance. Nearest metro stations are Place Monge or Censier-Daubenton on line 7. It is open to men only on Tuesday and Sunday, women only other days, but the teahouse is open to both sexes every day. Note that Muslim women wear a swimming costume, or at least underpants, so feel free to remain partly clothed. You can just have a steam, or a scrub and massage as well. Keep hold of your tickets – you have to line up for scrub and massage which is a hassle if you are in a hurry, but then you probably shouldn’t be at an hammam if you’re in a hurry. Allow at least two hours.

For more information on the Grande Mosquée de Paris, visit their website here.

And for further information on Spas in Paris, read our guide on the top 5.

A version of this article first appeared in print in The Australian newspaper.

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Patti Miller is the author of eight books and teaches memoir classes in Paris each October. Her ninth book, ‘The Joy of High Places’ will be released by NewSouth Press in August this year.

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  • L-D
    2019-11-25 11:41:12
    Hi, Where can you pre-book or can you just show up?


  • Beatrice
    2019-11-06 13:48:32
    I was there today, November 2019, and loved it. Take panties with you, they asked me to keep them on. All women had, some even a bikini. And all that will be soaked wet at the end - a plastic bag would also be good. Exactly as Patty said, the masseuse was taking arab to an other women all the time, but it didn’t matter. A wonderful experience and I will be there’s at my next visit to Paris.


  • Mary
    2018-10-26 11:02:03
    Went with my sister-in-law for a new adventure on one of our trips to Paris.. My French language skills did not include this experience, but we were able to navigate the lockers and towels and tickets... We went through the bath way too fast, not understanding the method of relaxing and enjoying the moment! We rushed to the scrubbing and massages which are given in order of the tickets so we could have "played around" a bit more!. Next time we will take our time to enjoy all the inner spaces of the Bath. We went nude..."when in Paris.... Once we had decided to shed all our clothing it became very easy to relax seeing that every other women was also in such a state! We also had a very nice lunch with tea which was part of a "package" deal.


  • Gretchen N
    2018-05-16 13:15:37
    Gretchen N
    I am looking forward to this experience! have gone to a similar Korean Bath in Los Angeles. Do you need reservations or do you just show up?


  • Ms
    2018-02-02 08:10:30
    It comes with a little band attached to it so you can wear it on your wrist like a bracelet.


  • Tamara
    2017-12-04 14:01:17
    I'm planning to go in the next couple of days and I've got a practical question: Where do you stash your tickets while soaping, steaming, splashing cool water? I mean I plan to be sans pockets and am a little bemused. I have the same question about lockers: Do I get a key? If so, where to I keep that? I've been to another hammam in the Marais some years ago, but I can't for the life of me remember those details. Thanks! And thank you for the excellent article, too.


  • Eileen Russell
    2017-01-18 20:34:13
    Eileen Russell
    Thank you, I had a very similar wonderful experience that I wrote about as well. I will be going back in February and I am looking forward to hammaming (can I use that as a verb?) and having Mint Tea and cookies in the courtyard. This is the website for the Hammam itself, You need to click on the Hammam Tab though.


  • Patti Miller
    2016-12-30 01:35:52
    Patti Miller
    Thanks Hazel. The friend who went with me was a Parisienne so that made it easier to work out what to do. And yes, the building is lovely - Islamic architecture is beautiful.


  • Patti Miller
    2016-12-29 22:50:15
    Patti Miller
    Thanks Hazel - the whole experience was well worth it. My friend was a Parisienne, so that made it easier. And yes, it is a lovely building - Islamic architecture is beautiful.


  • Hazel Smith
    2016-12-20 08:54:00
    Hazel Smith
    Brave girl. Good article. I was there for tea and tempted to a massage but I couldn't do it. An exquisite building, isn't it.