The Temple of Dendera is 60Km (37Miles) north of Luxor city and was the centre of the Goddess Hathor’s cult. During Ancient Egypt Hathor was the Cow Goddess symbolizing Love, Kindness, Motherhood, Music and Maternity. The Greeks identified the Goddess Hathor as Aphrodite. The ancient Egyptian name for the city was Lunet which the Greeks translated as Tentyra which later on became Dendara.
A Shrine to Hathor existed at The Temple of Dendera around 3100 BC; the shrine was rebuilt during the Pyramid age by King Khufu who built the great Pyramid. The Kings of the middle and the New Kingdom paid their tribute to Hathor by establishing a temple around that shrine.
The temple which you can visit today was built during the Graeco-Roman Period (332BC-AD395), which is considered a well preserved temple. King Ptolemy VIII and Queen Cleopatra II built it, and then later, Roman Emperors continued to decorate and finish the temple.
The first gateway was built by Roman Emperor Domitian in 80 A.D and leads to the great hall of the temple, which is decorated with Hathoric columns (columns with the face of Hathor on them) and they are in a very good condition. The upper, front edge of the cornice is decorated with the winged sun disc, while stone screens between the columns show scenes which represent the Roman Emperor Tiberius and other Roman rulers who are represented giving offerings to Hathor.
The interior walls of the great hall have remarkable scenes that mainly depict sacrifices being made to Hathor. The colourful ceiling with its astronomical representations is an amazing piece of art.
The ceiling is divided into 7 divisions, and the best remaining 3 are:
The first division on the eastern side, which depicts the Goddess Nut, the Goddess of the sky, who is bending herself towards the earth, with the sun disc shining on the temple and the mask of Hathor.
Secondly, and next to the first, is a representation of the sun boat and star Goddess.
The third one is the western ceiling, which shows a perfect representation of the zodiac signs, which is one of the reasons that the Temple is so famous (the original zodiac relief is now in the Louvre museum in Paris). The 12 figures of the ram, the bull, the heavenly twins, the crab, the lion, the virgin, the scales, the scorpion, the archer, the goat, the watering pots and fishes with glittering tails. On the inner walls of the screen, the hawk headed God Horus, and the IBIS headed God Thoth, are pouring drops of holy water over the King. This scene is called the baptism scene, symbolizing life and happiness.
The second hall has 6 columns decorated with rich capitals and granite pedestals. On both sides of this hall are small rooms that were used as storage rooms for wine jars, perfume and incense. Next is the central chapel, which has two altars; one for the sacred boat, and the other for the sacrifices offered to the Goddess Hathor.
In that part of the temple the high Priests and noblemen, used to gather in the great hall in preparation for the daily rituals. The ceilings are covered in stars, and black smoke from the fires of the later inhabitants of the Temple. The rooms around the sanctuary were used as labs to produce the perfume used during the rituals and also for storing of the sacred boat, the sacred wreath, the golden image of the Goddess Hathor and musical instruments.
There is a small corridor on the right, which leads to a small room that contains the crypt, highly recommended should you visit Dandera Temple.
The staircases, which lead to the roof of the Dendera Temple, are decorated with some beautiful symbols representing the 12 months of the year. On the eastern corner, of the roof, is the chapel of the God Osiris. The scenes on its walls represent Osiris rising from the dead and becoming the God of the underworld. It is from this chapel that the famous zodiac was taken to be on display in the Louvre Museum now.
The southern exterior wall shows the only intact representation of the famous Queen Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarian, son of Julius Caesar, making offerings to Hathor and all the other Gods of Dendera. On the same wall, near the cornice, are some stone lion heads, serving as water spouts. Adjoining the Temple building to the west is the sacred lake, which was used for the priests’ purification. Next to the lake is a small shaft, discovered in 1917, which contained valuable treasures of Cleopatra’s era, which are now on display in the Egyptian Museum.
The whole temple covers some 40,000 square meters and is surrounded by a hefty mud brick enclosed wall as well as the ruins of Coptic houses and churches, including a large number of Coptic crosses, which were chiseled into the stones. To the north lies the Mamisi, the birth house of Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, which was erected by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 90 A.D. This little temple is surrounded by a row of columns, with different capitals embellished with relief images of the God Bes, the chief God of childhood who drove evil spirits away from the babies. Bes is a hideous dwarf, with a big stomach and long whiskers a statue of which you can see in the Egyptian Museum.
Dendera is a temple of myths, legends, carvings and paintings that creates true wonder on any visit.
If Ancient Egypt has always fascinated you or you have a special interest then please contact us regarding our special Egyptology focused itineraries to learn more.
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Written by Mohamed Fahmy
Explore Travel and Cruises