Cairo Tiling‎ > ‎


Although great progress has been made in the investigation, there still remain many unanswered aspects. Below I pose a series of requests and questions that I would very much like to know the answer to, of which the reader may possibly be able to assist, or draw the attention of other people. Admittedly, many of these hugely hopeful, with little chance of success, and are the equivalent of ‘throwing a message in a bottle in the ocean’ and hoping for the best. However, it paid of once before with Helen Donnelly answering my request for an in situ picture, so who knows?

1. Does anyone know of any other recorded purposefully first-hand sightings in print?
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there are the very few recorded purposefully first-hand sightings in print; indeed, there are apparently just two. Typically, the paving will appear in the background to the main focus of the picture, whatever it is. The apparent first sighting is by James Dunn [1], although his article is not explicit in stating that this was a first-hand sighting. However, following personal correspondence, Dunn confirmed that it was indeed a first-hand sighting (at Cairo airport). The apparent second sighting was by Robert Macmillan [3], who in his article stated explicitly that he visited Cairo and saw numerous instances (and incidentally he gives a more extensive account than Dunn). However aside for these two instances, there are no more. Are there any other recorded first-hand sightings?

2. Can anyone antedate the apparent first recorded reference of the Cairo attribute given to the tiling in 1971, namely that by James Dunn?
The apparent first instance is by James Dunn, in 1971 [3], where he stated the tiling ' a favourite street-tiling in Cairo'. This attribution is perhaps somewhat surprisingly late, given the obvious old age of some of the tilings, now (2017) established of 1957. I would be very interested in hearing of any antedating of the 1971 reference, or any other references from the 1970s (references from the 1980s onwards abound; a full list is given on the references page).

3. Foreign instances outside of Egypt sought

Has anyone seen the tiling as a paving, interior or exterior outside of Egypt? It is also to be found in Japan, where it is said to be ‘quite frequent’ (Tokyo), Turkey, UK, and Germany (Hamburg Music Hall). Does anyone know of instances elsewhere?

4. Is the tiling found in the wider Islamic world?
Despite being described as a ‘traditional Islamic pattern’, it is barely known in an Islamic setting. Indeed, I know of only one other instance, of a mosque in Watford, UK. Is it known in the wider Islamic world?

5. Sightings outside of Cairo, but still in Egypt sought
Although the paving is primarily found in Cairo, it can still be found elsewhere, outside of Cairo, but still in Egypt. Instances are found at Alexandria (outside a Roman amphitheatre), El Alamein (War museum), Aswan (Old Cataract hotel), and St Paul’s monastery. Are there any other instances?

6. Where, or was, it being manufactured?
Is the tiling still being manufactured, and if so where? For a while, this originated with the Nile Company, but is no longer being made.  Was it outsourced? Judging by the appearance of the paving in some of the pictures, these would appear to be new, and so likely it is still being made, but where remains elusive. I have tentative reports of it being made in Basateen, but without any real detail whatsoever. If the manufacturer can be found, likely more historical detail will emerge. Detail is sought.

7. 1950-1960s American University in Cairo contacts sought
Given the significant nature of the sighting at the American University in Cairo (AUC), I would like to establish when this was instigated. Despite extensive investigation with the AUC itself, this still remain largely unresolved. In short, the pavings are dated at least 'mid 1960s'. An obvious line of enquiry is to ask people who attended the University in the 1950s and 1960s if they can recall seeing the paving. Even a negative account would be of some use, in that say a 1960 non-appearance would at least give a 'not before' date. Does anyone know of people who attended the AUC at and before this time?

8. Old pictures of significant sightings sought

As such, the pavings are installed in a wide variety of places in Cairo, and indeed in other towns as well. However, not all of these offer the same opportunity for research. For instance, where they are installed on a street of no particular importance, background details as to instigation are most unlikely to emerge. However, when they are indeed attached to a place of note, this offers more opportunity of researching. As such, I have what I consider four sightings of significance in this regard, at the AUC, Gezira Sporting Club, and outside of Cairo, with the Old Cataract hotel (one of the grandest hotels in all of Egypt), and the El Alamein War museum. Does anyone have ‘old pictures’ of these either with or without the paving; even a ‘negative’ picture is of use; it giving an upper bound.

9. Books and articles sought
Would any reader of this web page know of any additional references to the Cairo tiling in books and articles other than those here (as given on the references page)? I would indeed like to see additional references.

10. Cairo airport pictures c. 1969 sought
Would anyone have pictures of
Cairo airport, at Heliopolis, of c. 1969 showing the paving? Or indeed, before or afterwards that date? The first report (by James Dunn) I have is at Cairo airport, and so is historically significant, but pictures have remained (not surprisingly) elusive. Likely, this sighting is no longer extant, due to new termini being built at the airport. Or indeed, does anyone know of anything of this?

11. Gezira Sporting Club contacts sought.
Could anyone help me a sighting at the Gezira Sporting Club? A noticeable feature of the pergola there is that of the paving. I note that the Sporting Club was founded way back, in 1892, and so the possibility is that of the paving being relatively old. The picture here is modern, of 2010. The Sporting Club does not appear to have email details, and so my enquiries are hindered.

12. Visitors to Cairo sought
Would any reader of this web page be visiting
Cairo, or know of someone who is intending to do so? I have some sightings that I would like checking out, specifically at Al Galaa club (is it still extant?), Heliopolis and the Gezira Sporting Club. Also, any new sightings in other locations would be warmly welcomed.

13. Identifying a sighting outside a Mosque

The tiling appears (incidentally) in a photograph in a 1987 book by Insight Guides, Egypt, apparently of a mosque at the the City of the Dead, but without further detail. However clues are given in the Arabic script signage at the mosque, which reads ‘Masjid and Maqam of Muhamed abu al-Sa`ud al-Jarahi (or al-Jirahi)’ and ‘Midan Abu al-Sa`ud’. However, despite such exact detail (for once!) I have not been able to locate this on any map. Does anyone know of this? I’ll email the copyrighted picture upon request.

14. Patent

From an 1956 advert from the Nile Company, reference is made as to a patent, and a number given. However, I have not been able to find this. Looking at the Egypt patent site I could not find this, although hindered by the Arabic interface. It may indeed be there; would anybody fluent in Arabic have a look? I might just add that I now consider this the most active pressing matter to be determined; almost certainly, this will reveal the exact angles of the pentagon. (I have two possibilities of the collinear nature; there may be more.)

No matter how small or insignificant you think your detail could be, even if of a negative nature, I want to hear of it! Please email me with any further details.

[1] Dunn, James A. 'Tessellations with Pentagons'. The Mathematical Gazette, December 1971, 366-369.
[2] Gardner, Martin. 'On tessellating the plane with convex polygon tiles'. Scientific American, July 1975, 112-118.
[3] Macmillan, Robert H. 'Pyramids and pavements: some thoughts from
Cairo'. The Mathematical Gazette, December 1979, 251-255.

Created: 15 March 2011. Revised 15 July, 4 August 2011. Revised and expanded 28 January 2013. Updated 12 March 2019, with removal of out of date requests that have been answered or resolved (removed non-active Panoramio link, BBC interview and Stanford University access, speculations as to the age of the paving) patent request added, and a general tidying up.