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. Has anyone seen an in situ picture (i.e. photograph) of the tiling in Cairo in any publication?
Amazingly, despite many references to the tiling in the mathematical literature, it has apparently never been shown purposefully in a book, article, or newspaper in its most obvious incarnation, as an in situ picture i.e. as a photograph! Instead, invariably, author after author will give a line drawing. Does anyone know of an in situ picture, purposeful or not, in any publication aside from those listed?

2. Does anyone know of any recorded first-hand sightings in print?
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there are the very few recorded first-hand sightings in print; indeed, there are apparently just two. 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?

3. 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. The tilings could possibly predate Dunn's attribute by many years, if not many decades. 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).

4. How old are the tilings?
The pictures clearly show that the tilings are from different periods, as some are obviously relatively new, with the tiles in more or less new condition, whilst others are noticeably old, being well worn, and indeed, in places the tiling pattern is obliterated from constant usage. An open question is to how old these are. Obviously, from Dunn's 1971 report (he saw these in 1969), the tilings he saw are at least now (or would be, they are apparently no longer there) 44 years old, which gives at least an guide. The AUC sightings give strong anecdotal evidence of at least 1966, and so this gives at least 47 years. However, the obviously worn tiles would appear (but not necessarily) to be much, much older. Can anyone put an age on these?

5. Who or what body was responsible for the installation of the tiling?*
Nothing is known as to the background to the installation. Was it from just one person, perhaps at the behest of a municipal contract, who suddenly introduced this more or less at whim? Was it perhaps from an institution, rather than individual person. Was it from a paving company? Can anyone furnish further details?

* I now have a named designer, a Ramzi Omar. More detail to follow

6. It is said to appear as a mosaic on Moorish buildings; but where?
Aside from being seen as a tiling, Gardner [2], states that it is seen '…in the mosaics of Moorish buildings', but he is not specific as to the type of building. As such, there is no documentary evidence for this in the form of a picture. Has anyone seen this tiling on any ‘Moorish building’?

7. Foreign instances outside of Egypt sought
Has anyone seen the tiling outside of Cairo? It is also to be found in Japan, where it is said to be ‘quite frequent’ (Tokyo), and Germany (Hamburg Music Hall). Does anyone know of instances elsewhere?

8. Is the tiling found in the wider Islamic world?
No instances are known, despite being described as a ‘traditional Islamic pattern’. Is it known in the wider Islamic world?

9. Sightings outside of Egypt, but still in Cairo sought
Given the now obvious popularity of the tiling, one would think it would also be found elsewhere outside Cairo in Egypt, as it indeed is, at Alexandria (outside a Roman amphitheatre), El Alamein (War museum), Aswan (Old Cataract hotel), and St Paul’s monastery. Are there any other instances?

10. Where is it being manufactured?
Is the tiling still being manufactured, and if so where? 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, and anecdotal reports at Aswan, and possibly Heliopolis, but without any detail whatsoever. If the manufacturer can be found, likely more historical detail will emerge. Detail is sought.

11. American University in Cairo contacts sought
Of some importance is that of establishing the earliest installation of the tiling. The earliest confirmed instance so far is at the American University in Cairo (AUC), with the pavings dated loosely 1960s-1970s, and strong anecdotal evidence of at least 1966. An obvious line of enquiry is to ask people who attended the university in the 1960s and before if they can recall seeing the paving. Does anyone know of people who attended the AUC at and before this time?

12. Paving expert to determine age sought
Another means of establishing the age is by visual inspection of the more ‘well worn’ pavings, and putting on them an upper and lower bound. Although I have indeed made contact with a paving expert, John Knapman, who provided much information, I would like a second opinion. Does anyone know of a ‘paving expert’ who could speculate on the age of the pavings, or indeed have any thoughts; needless to say, I’m a layman in paving per se.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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?

16. 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 enquireis are hindered.

16. 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 Heliopolis and the Gezira Sporting Club. Also, any new sightings in other locations would be warmly welcomed.

17. Identifying video location
Can anyone identify this location in Cairo (below), from a BBC interview by Jeremy Bowen of the BBC with Hassam Badwari of the National Democratic Party (NDP), conducted during the January 2011 unrest? The interview was undertaken amidst a veritable sea of the paving. N.B. forward the video two minutes to get to the relevant tiling part:
Jeremy Bowen interview with Hassan Badwari

An obvious (although not necessary) location is the NDP headquarters, does anyone know of this?

18. 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.

19. Stanford University archive access

Of interest would be to examine Gardner’s papers for his 1975 article [2]. One possible investigation would be to have a look in the Stanford archive (where his papers are stored) for the background to the article. Would any keen reader have, or know of someone with access to the archives there that could have a look?

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