The origins of Turkish towels date to about the 7th century A.D. and entwine with the Turkish bathhouses, known as hammans. The concept of the bath house came, most likely, from the Romans, but they became quite popular with the Turkish and Ottoman royalty. Naturally, whatever royalty does eventually becomes ritualized in nearly every culture. Therefore, the use of hammans developed certain ceremonial customs with required accouterments. Among those items was a special towel.
THE PESTEMAL CLOTH
Known as a pestemal from the Turkish region of the same name, weavers originally crafted these towels from cotton, linen or bamboo fibers. The flat towel always ended in a fringe. Cotton, with its remarkable absorbency, eventually enjoyed the highest degree of popularity. Roughly 35 inches by 43 inches, the thin fabric was used for a variety of purposes, not simply for bathing. However, as royalty demanded more of these handmade sheets of cotton, they became famous (and expensive!) as bath towels and have been associated as such ever since. Because the cotton grown in Turkey has especially long fibers, it spins into strong, soft threads which, when woven, possesses superior absorbent properties.
When aristocratic couples were to be wed, they received a ceremonial bath kit as a gift. This included a bath glove fabricated from palm roots, soap in a special box, a pumice stone, a brass or copper bowl for the bath, bath clogs for their feet and a set of pestemals or towels. One pestemal wrapped the shoulders, the other the waist.
THE OTTOMAN EVOLUTION
The rise of the Ottoman Empire in the Turkish region, and beyond, brought craftsmen skilled in rug making with intricate designs and weaving techniques. As they worked their design schemes and more complex weaves into the original pestemal concept, interest in the Turkish towel revived anew within the ranks of the elite. The 18th century saw the invention of the process of adding second, longer warp threads to the loom that could be pulled up to form loops which were then locked into place with the weft threads. They called this new weave "havly." From havly was born what we now recognize as terry cloth from which our common modern bath towels are created.
TURKISH TOWEL APPEAL EXPLODES
While the world certainly loves its heavy, looped towels for their usefulness, the traditional Turkish towel offers extra benefits not to be enjoyed by the thicker textiles. Turkish towels, still fashioned from exquisite Turkish cotton, have less weight, are far more portable, dry much more quickly and serve in many capacities besides post-bath drying.
A trip to the beach, sunbathing and securing some post-swim modesty are only a few uses for which the Turkish towel serves its owner well. In fact, Turkish towels have become so popular, old hand-looms, in some instances, had to be abandoned in favor of modern automation in order to meet the growing worldwide demand. Produced in a wide variety of colors, patterns, and weaves, Turkish towels add a special new style to bathrooms no matter the surrounding decor. Owners and guests alike will marvel at the soft, tactile luxury and understand why they are so coveted.