From Ottoman Empire to modern homes: the history of the hammam towel

If you’ve ever owned or used a hammam towel, whether as a beach towel, picnic blanket or another of their wide variety of functions, you might not have realised that you were handling a piece of history. 

The hammam towel – also known as a peshtemal or fouta – has been around for centuries. In fact, its roots can be traced all the way back to the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, when it was a staple of the hammams or Turkish bathhouses. These served as centres of socialisation and relaxation, and bathers would wrap themselves in lightweight, absorbent towels made from locally-sourced cotton or linen. Known mainly as peshtemals, these towels were prized for their softness, quick-drying properties and their ability to withstand frequent use. If you’ve ever owned one, you won’t be surprised.  

As the Ottoman Empire’s influence expanded across the Mediterranean and beyond, the hammam towel came with it, via the many trade routes that crisscrossed the region carrying goods, ideas and customs.  

In Tunisia, the peshtemal took on a fresh identity as a “fouta” – a name derived from the Arabic word for “towel”. It was here that artisan fouta makers began to experiment with vibrant colours, intricate patterns and embellishments, injecting a level of sophistication into the humble towel. Foutas became highly valued possessions, cherished for their beauty as well as their usefulness.  

In Europe, the towels’ lightweight design and quick-drying properties made it popular among travellers, and they were introduced to new audiences via European trade merchants. 



Today, these flat-woven cotton towels have a multitude of uses, and come in an array of gorgeous colours and patterns, from bright stripes in coastal hues to chic herringbone designs. They’re incredibly lightweight and can be rolled very small, meaning they’re easy to take away on holiday or pop in your beach bag for a day at the coast.  

Spread out your hammam towel on the beach for a colourful base that’s soft to sit on, or throw one round salty shoulders after a dip in the sea. They make stylish sarongs too and, being super absorbent, are great for popping on over damp swimwear. 

At home, a hammam’s the perfect light towel to reach for after a cool summer shower – and they’ll make a stylish addition to your bathroom rack when not in use, too.  

Drape one over a chair or sofa to add an easy pop of colour in the home, or keep a few handy for friends to grab during long summer evenings in the garden.  

Being soft and washable, a hammam also makes a perfect picnic blanket – spread it out over your lawn at home for a garden feast, or make for a quiet corner of your local park and lie back on your hammam to enjoy the natural surroundings in comfort.  

With so many reasons to reach for a hammam towel, and so many designs to pick from, why stick to just one? Check out our gorgeous selection and add some hammam heritage to your life.  

We’re excited to be back at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival on 2-7 July, where you can pop along to the Forever England stand to peruse the products in person and meet designer Katie and the rest of the team.