Behind the towering World Trade Centre and Conrad hotel, in the narrow alleys of Shobra, sits Hammam El Arbaa, just as it has been for the past 500 years. The hammam (Arabic for bath) provides a steam bath, massage, and a full body wash for a mere 25LE. Whichever way you look at it, trying out a hammam to see what the fuzz is all about won’t waste anything but a little dead skin off your back.

The establishment was bought by a man named Awkal eleven years ago. A devoted patron to the hammam himself, Awkal took over the decaying bath from its ambivalent owners and revamped the place while taking pains to maintain the rustic aesthetic. You’ll feel like you walked into a time warp when you’re at El Arbaa. Some kitsch has lurked its way inside, yet the dome-shaped cellars will make you feel very nostalgic.

The hammam is a five-minute walk from the Boulaq police station. We recommend that you park your car there and have a nice walk down the quiet alleyways. If you ask anyone on the street for directions, they’ll be more than happy to point you the right way; but be sure to mention which hammam you are looking for: Hammam El Arbaa is situated right next to Hammam El Talaat.

The procedure they follow is based on Turkish bath methods introduced to Egypt during the Othman period, as well as Moroccan hammam traditions. You first step into a piping hot bath with steam all around you, where you stay for a few minutes before you rinse in a cold-water tub. It’s a form of hydrotherapy that challenges your thermoregulation and stimulates your blood circulation. There is scepticism about the procedure’s healing powers, but it’s rejuvenating nevertheless. It may leave you a little dizzy, but we’ve been told that it’s normal and healthy; as it means that your body is exuding all its energy by trying to maintain its core temperature.

The highlight of the hammam experience is the massage and the full-body wash. At Awkal, the massage is performed by a middle-aged man with a gut the size of a watermelon. He performs it while wearing nothing but his tighty whities, and his gut tends to get in the way occasionally. Instead of oils, the rounded masseur applies soap on your body and proceeds to rub it all over your back and chest. It’s intensive and quick, and not at all relaxing; but afterwards your muscles will feel relieved.

Next is the full-body wash, in which a younger man wears a gritty glove and scrubs the dead skin off your entire body. You then take a shower to get rid of the soap and take another round of hot and cold dips.

Hammam El Arbaa has a waiting room outside, where they offer hot tea and other traditional drinks. Its patrons are an exciting mix of working-class Egyptians and adventurous foreigners. It’s not as sketchy as you might think, and many people that give it a try find themselves returning periodically. The hammam is cheap, cleansing and most definitely memorable. Go with a bunch of your friends for maximum fun.