When thinking about the origin of the S, our imagination is often lost amongst the ancient world. We imagine long lost Hieroglyphics etched into pyramid walls, or cave paintings telling a story we could never believe. But more recently our dreams have become a reality. Introducing - Sultan Al-Nasir Hasan.
An-Nasir Badr ad-Din Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Qalawun was born in 1334 AD and twice ruled over the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria, which at the time encompassed parts of modern-day Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel. His first reign begin when he was just 12 years old. What a responsibility for such a young boy.
Although he lived to just 27 years old, he is known for his patronage of the arts and architecture, which greatly enhanced the cultural life of Egypt during his reign.
Among his accomplishments, al-Nasir Hasan commissioned the construction of several notable buildings, including the Madrasa of Amir al-Maridani and the Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad in Cairo. He was also a patron of the arts and supported the work of prominent calligraphers and book illustrators, including Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti.
Al-Nasir Hasan's patronage of the arts and architecture differed from other rulers of his era in that he sought to promote a unique Egyptian style, drawing inspiration from local traditions and materials rather than imitating foreign styles. This helped to establish a distinct Egyptian cultural identity and set a precedent for later generations of artists and architects.
At the age of 22, Hasan commissioned one of his biggest projects - a Madrasa in his namesake. And what does any good 22 yr old do when designing a new Mosque? He covered it in S things, inside and out!
The Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hasan is one of the largest and architecturally exquisite mosques in all of Egypt. It was commissioned sometime between 1356 AD and 1362 AD, and is located opposite its nineteenth century neighbor al-Rifa’i mosque in Salah al-Din Square.
The mosque was considered remarkable for its massive size and innovative architectural components, and is still considered one of the most impressive historic monuments in Cairo today.
The mosque consists of an open courtyard with a beautiful fountain in its centre. The courtyard is surrounded by four iwans (a rectangular space that is open on one side). Doorways at the four corners of the courtyard allow access into four madrasas, educational institutions, where the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence were taught.
It is within this open courtyard, where we see the S symbol used in the tile work on the flooring. We looked to tripadvisor to find authentic photos from tourists within this sacred area and have included them here.
The second location where we found the S, was alongside the outside perimeter of the mosque. This is the most striking resemblance to the modern day S. On a slanting stairway leading to the entrance is a clear and obvious 'S' motif. And it's massive.
Like most Islamic monuments in Cairo, this one has also undergone several phases of reconstruction, up until the twentieth century. The mosque and madrasa are distinguished with the ornate domes, stone and plaster carved decorations, as well as the marble works of the mihrab.
Where these tileworks part of a more modern reconstruction or were they original? Historical images below from photographer Francis Firth from 1850-1870 may suggest the mosque has simpler brick work around the main fountain which would also suggest an even lower grade expected outside the mosque.
We headed to Youtube to find a highly insightful video tour of the Mosque by the Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at The American University in Cairo - Bernard O'Kane. We reached out to Bernard who kindly and quickly responded. (Thank You Bernard)
When asked about the S tile work inside and out Bernard responded:
''The outside tiles were installed after the roadway was paved over in the early 1990s, approximately.
So, did Sultan Al-Nasir Hasan born in 1334 invent the S thing? There is a lot of evidence to suggest he did but still some open questions. What do you think? Let us know what you think in the comments.
*We will continue to investigate this spectacular find and report back on any new evidence. One day soon we will visit the location to investigate for our own eyes.
This is an active investigation and we welcome any and all contributions.