Hammam Towel Guide

A Pestemal (pronounced pesh-temal or pesh-tamal) has been used for centuries in Turkish Baths as a form of wrap or cover-up. The actual dictionary definition is ‘waistcloth’ or ‘loincloth’ and this simple, flat-weave wrap was (and still is) a staple component of the Ottoman/Turkish bathing culture. The Turkish word for “Turkish Bath” is “Hamam”, and this gives rise to the English term ‘hammam towel’ which tends more towards spelling with a double m. 

From these modest and traditional origins, the hammam towel is now a popular and fashionable alternative to a terry towel, particularly in a holiday or travel context but also at home or at the gym.

Hammam towels are flat woven, so do not have the “looping” found on normal (terry) towels. (As an interesting aside it is said that the Ladies of the Ottoman Harem were instrumental in the creation of the modern terry towel by demanding more creative and fashionable alternatives to the simple pestemal. Highly skilled weavers duly obliged by adding a second warp to the weaving process and the looped towel was the result).

Far from becoming obsolete the pestemal is now enjoying a renaissance well beyond the confines of the Turkish Bath. A hammam towel infact offers numerous practical benefits when compared to terry towels or modern beach towels:

  • Firstly, they are incredibly versatile. As well as a towel for drying oneself a pestemal can be used in many other ways – as a beach wrap/sarong, scarf or shawl, tablecloth, throw, sunlounge cover, a plane blanket and more. Our own hammam towels have even been made into curtains!
  • Hammam towels are thinner and lighter than a normal towel. Usually made of 100% cotton or a blend with another natural fibre such as bamboo or linen, they will absorb water just as well as a standard terry towel but dry much more quickly. Pestemal towels also take up much less space. For this reason they make an excellent travel towel or spa towel. They are a fantastic solution for family holidays, backpacking or even cruises – less suitcase space, less to carry and quicker to wash and dry ready for the following day’s activities. A hammam towel will typically weigh 250-300g. Put four in a suitcase and then do the same with four big beach towels - note what you gain in weight and space. 
  • Hammam towels are an extremely eco-friendly product. They carry a smaller footprint than standard terry towels – less water is required for washing, drying is so much easier, and a lower weight and less bulk has a big impact on transport cost.

Ailera hammam towels all use Turkish Aegean cotton (the longest fibre which gives greater softness, durability and absorbency) and are all woven in the same region of south-west Turkey. The cotton is local to the looms, giving rise to an enormous saving on transport costs. This forms the core component of a localised, mutually dependent system involving growers, weavers and the maintenance of “atelier” or village-based weaving using traditional shuttle looms or ‘handlooms’.

Our extensive knowledge of Turkish textiles coupled with our close association with the artisans who work these looms ensures a level of product quality and innovation which is second to none.

Ailera produces hammam towels on both modern looms and traditional shuttle looms under our Ottoman Originals label. By purchasing an Ottoman Originals towel you are directly contributing to the maintenance of a weaving culture which has existed in Turkey for centuries. Demand for these products helps preserve both skills and the looms themselves, both of which might otherwise be lost in a world of modern automated manufacturing techniques.