Travelling Turkey

History of Hammams & Turkish Towels

The history of the Turkish baths, called Hammams were likely derived from Roman and Byzantine baths. An export of the Roman Empire they extended to Turkey in the 7th Century. Popularised around 600 AD, the prophet Mohammed apparently recommended ’sweat baths" to his followers. As Islam grew, so did the hammam ritual of having places of extreme cleanliness, where purifying the body went hand-in-hand with purifying the soul.

The hammam was also a gathering point to meet, relax, catch up with family, friends and celebrate major life events such as weddings and births.

When young Turkish couples decided to wed they would each be given a traditional hammam set which consisted of;

  • homemade soap in a kıldanlık (soap box),
  • bath glove made from palm root (kese),
  • pumice stone,
  • brass or copper hammam bowl,
  • bath clogs (takunya) and most important of all, a pestemal !

The hammam typically consists of three main areas: a hot steam room with a large marble stone at the centre, where bathers lay as attendants scrub and massage them; a warm room for bathing; and a cool room for resting. Areas are typically gender-separated and nudity is optional.

The pestemal, a flat woven cloth traditionally woven by women on hand looms, was a very important part of hammam culture. Greatly favoured by the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire and their harems, men wore pestemals wrapped around the waist while women wore them higher up covering their entire torso for modesty.

Pestemals continue to appeal to all walks of life and are still used today. Fast becoming a household word all over the world, pestemals are now available in myriad of exotic colours, stripes and textures — a must have.

Join the ever growing pestemal fan club – you’ll wonder why you never did so before!

One historic hammam worth visiting is Istanbul’s Cagaloglu Hammam, a palatial marble bathhouse that was built in 1741.

Check out the link for the best Hammams to visit when your next in Turkey xx

Best Hammams