Temple of Dendera

 

Temple of Dendera is located on the west bank of the Nile, about 5km to the north west of Qena, and about 60 km north of Luxor. Dendera was the capital of the Sixth Upper Egyptian Nome ( Jty). 

The magnificent Temple of goddess Hathor at Dendera, Qena, Egypt.
The magnificent Temple of goddess Hathor at Dendera, Qena, Egypt.

The area on which the temple was built was known in ancient times as tA n nThrt or the ‘land of the goddess’ in reference to goddess Hathor to whom the temple was dedicated. 

This name was later on altered into Tentyris (Τεντυρις) in Greek and into Dendera in Arabic.

Goddess Hathor was the ancient Egyptian goddess of maternity. She was either represented as a cow with the sun disc in between her two horns, or as a woman whose head is topped by the sun disc and the two cow horns.

Hathor appears with the head of a woman and the ears of a cow.
Hathor appears with the head of a woman and the ears of a cow.

 In yet another form, Hathor appears with the head of a woman and the ears of a cow. 

In addition to Dendera, Hathor had other cult centres, at Gebelein, Atfih, Memphis, Thebes, Qous, and Sinai. 

According to ancient texts, the site of Dendera witnessed one of the battles between the two rival gods Horus and Seth. Early texts refer to a temple at Dendera, which was rebuilt in Old Kingdom times. Several New Kingdom kings, such as Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III, and Ramses II contributed to the enlargement of the temple of Dendera. 

Dendera in the past
Dendera in the past

The present structure, however, was built during the Ptolemaic era (Ptolemy I, Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VIII, Ptolemy IX, Ptolemy X, XII, Cleopatra VII, and Caesarion), and was decorated by the Romans (Octavianus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius) . 

Like most Egyptian temples, the temple of Dendera is oriented towards the Nile, which flows east-west. Temple of Dendera consists of the following parts: 

 

Dendera Temple Complex
Dendera Temple Complex

1-The Pro-pylon and the Enclosure Wall (Temenos)

 

Temple of Dendera is entered through a pro-pylon gateway, built during the reign of the Roman Emperors Domitian and Trajan. The pro-pylon is set into a massive mud-brick enclosure wall (Temenos) that surrounds the area of the temple. The enclosure wall measures 290m in length, 280m in width, and is almost 10m. in height. 

the ceiling of dendera temple
the ceiling of dendera temple
  • The function of the enclosure wall (Temenos) was twofold. First, it protected the temple in times of civil strife or invasion. It also delineated the domain of gods, and protected it from the profane gaze. Enclosure walls were built of mud brick. They were often built with alternating concave and convex sections possibly to symbolize the waters of the primeval ocean according to Heliopolitan cosmology.

 

2-The Courtyard and the Outer Hypostyle Hall

 

An unfinished inner enclosure wall built of stone surrounds an open courtyard. The courtyard leads to the large hypostyle hall, which was built during the reign of Tiberius.

   According to temple inscriptions, the outer hypostyle hall was called (xnt). It was inside this hall that the king, as well as the priests, prepared themselves for the rituals that are yet to be performed inside the inner part of the temple. Three doors gave access to the outer hypostyle hall. One was presumably used for the entry of the king while the two other side doors were reserved for the entry of the priests who carried the offerings. 

The outer hypostyle hall of Hathor Temple at Dendera
The outer hypostyle hall of Hathor Temple at Dendera

   The facade of the outer hypostyle hall is constructed as a low screen with inter-columnar walls. The ceiling is supported by 24 columns. Each column has a four-sided capital carved in the form of a sistrum (symbol of the cow goddess Hathor). Most of the Hathoric faces were vandalized in antiquity. 

  The ceiling retained much of its original colour. The architraves divide the ceiling into seven divisions or parts. The central part is decorated with scenes of vultures and winged sun discs. The six other parts are decorated with signs of the zodiac and scenes of the sky-goddess Nut who swallows the sun disc by night in order to give birth to it by day.

  • Hypostyle: a term that derives from the Greek ‘υποστυλος’, which means ‘under columns’. 

3-The Inner Hypostyle Hall

 

   The large hypostyle hall leads to a smaller inner hypostyle hall, known as ‘the hall of appearances’ Wsx-xa because it was here that the statue of goddess Hathor appeared from her sanctuary for religious ceremonies. The ceiling of the second hypostyle hall is supported by 6 columns. The walls are decorated with scenes showing the king participating in the foundation ceremonies of the temple until it is consecrated to goddess Hathor. 

 

Scenes on the western side walls of this hall show:

– The king, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, as he prepares to leave his palace, preceded by a priest who burns incense before him.

-The king performing the various foundation rituals of the temple. Scenes on the eastern side walls of this hall show:

-The King, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, as he departs from his palace preceded by raised flags.

-The King offered silver and gold to goddess Hathor.

-The King sprinkling incense balls on a temple model in the presence of Hathor and Isis.

Zodiac in the Temple at Dendera
Zodiac in the Temple at Dendera

Side Rooms:

On either side of the inner hypostyle hall, doors open into three

chambers. All six chambers were used for the preparation of offerings needed for the daily ritual. An opening through the outer eastern wall was probably used to bring offerings into this area, and a parallel passage from one of the western chambers led to a well.

Of particular interest, is the first room to the west, which was known as ‘the house of silver’, and was probably used for the storage of valuable cultic objects made of silver and gold.

The temple’s inner core was constructed by several later Ptolemaic

kings. Noticeably, the cartouches carved on the walls of this part were left without names reflecting the often unstable nature of their reigns.

 

 Hall of Offerings in Temple of Dendera

 It was inside this hall, where offerings were consecrated for goddess Hathor. The hall probably also served as a place where priests gathered before heading to the New Year Chapel (see further below). The procession of priests heading to the temple roof probably started here as well. To the east and west of the hall, a staircase leads to the roof of the temple, where the Osirian Shrines are located.

Scenes on the side walls of the staircase show the ascending and the descending processions of the various priests carrying the shrine of goddess Hathor all the way up to the temple roof, where it would be kept overnight before beholding the rising sun in a symbolic union with the solar disc, A door on the eastern side of the hall leads to a room known as the “libation room”. 

scenes from dendra temple
scenes from dendra temple

Hall of the Ennead of Dendra temple

   This hall separates the hall of offerings from the sanctuary. It was here that the statues of other deities assembled with the statue of goddess Hathor before processions began. 

To the east of this hall, is a room dedicated for the storage of ‘woven materials’ (i.e. the linen used for the dressing of divine statues). To the west of the hall, is another room known as ‘Silver Room’.  

 

The Shrine of the New Year of Dendra temple

 

The Shrine of the New Year is a small shrine dedicated for the celebration of the New Year feast. The shrine is accessed through the ‘Silver Room’. It is preceded by a small open court. The shrine itself is approached via a flight of steps. 

On the ceiling of this shrine, goddess Nut is depicted with her body bending over to symbolize the celestial dome, while her arms and legs touch the four cardinal points. Out of her body, the sun disc and the lunar disc rise to shed light on a small naos with the head of the cow goddess Hathor. 

 

The Sanctuary’s Temple of Dendera

  Scenes on the walls of the sanctuary suggest that it once contained a shrine or naos for the statue of Hathor. It might as well have contained the portable sacred barque used for housing her statue during processions.

Dendera Temple
Dendera Temple

The Corridor around the Sanctuary

  The corridor around the central sanctuary has eleven chapels. They are dedicated to other deities who were associated with Hathor at Dendera. One of these chapels is dedicated for the chief attributes of the cow goddess, such as her sistrum, and the menat necklace. 

 

In the chapel located directly behind the main sanctuary, there is a niche in the rear wall. This niche is positioned exactly at the point where a shrine of the ‘hearing ear’ is located on the temple’s exterior wall. The shrine and the niche are made to allow the goddess to hear the prayers directed to her by her devotees. 

 

The Crypts of the Temple of Dendera

   The temple of Dendera is characterized by the presence of a number of crypts, which were built into the walls or beneath the floors of the chambers in the rear part of the temple. Crypts were generally used for the giving of oracles or as secret storerooms for the safekeeping of valuable cultic objects. The most important object kept in these crypts was a statue of the ba of Hathor, which was taken to the roof of the temple during the celebration of the New Year’s feast. 

 

Temple of Dendera’s Roof 

  The roof of the inner temple has two sets of chapels located on its eastern and western sides. They were dedicated to the death and resurrection of Osiris. Additionally, they contain a representation of the sky goddess Nut and various other deities. The ceiling of one of these chapels is covered by a depiction of the Zodiac (the original is now in the Louvre, and is replaced by a copy). The roof of the hypostyle hall was reached by another flight of steps. Graffiti left by pious pilgrims to the temple could still be seen on the ground of the roof. 

 

Waterspouts

The exterior walls of the temple are provided by waterspouts, which drains rainwater from the roof. The waterspouts take the form of apotropaic lions. 

Waterspouts
Waterspouts

The exterior wall of the temple has scenes showing Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion (Cleopatra’s son by Julius Caesar), who also became her co- regent. At the centre of the rear wall, directly behind the sanctuary is a large false door with a gigantic emblem of goddess Hathor. The emblem diminished over the centuries by pilgrims who scraped at it in order to obtain a little of the sacred stone.

 

The Earlier Birth House (Mammisi) of Nectanebo I

A ‘birth house’ is an independent structure located within the temple precinct. The term ‘birth house’ derives from the Coptic name ‘ϻa-mici’, which means ‘place of birth’. Inside the birth house, the ceremonies associated with the birth of a child god, such as Hr-pA-Xrd, IHy, and Hr-smA-tAwy, were celebrated. An antecedent of birth houses would be the birth rooms.

which were dedicated to the divine birth of kings in New Kingdom temples, such as the divine birth of King Amenhotep III at the temple of Luxor and the divine birth of Queen Hatshepsut at her temple at Deir-el-Bahari. Mammisis were present in all major temples built during the Graeco-Roman era.

The best known examples are the two birth houses of Dendera. The earlier birth house at Dendera was built by Nectanebo I of the 30th Dynasty, and was later on modified by the Ptolemies [Ptolemy II (Philadelphus), Ptolemy VIII (Euergetes II), Ptolemy X (Soter II), and Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysos)]. It was dedicated to the child god Ihy and his mother goddess Hathor. The building consists of an open court, a vestibule, a hall of offerings, and a sanctuary. 

 

The Roman Birth House

   It was built by the Roman Emperor Augustus (Octavianus) and was decorated by Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. It was dedicated to Hathor and her son Ihy. It consists of a forecourt, hall of the Ennead, hall of offerings, and a sanctuary. 

 

The Coptic Basilica (church): 

  The Coptic Basilica is located to the south of the roman birth house. It dates back to the 5th century. It is a rectangular building entered through two side doors located at its western end. The entrance leads to the narthex, which is connected to the nave by three doors. The nave is flanked by two side aisles. Towards the east end of the church is a triple sanctuary. 

 

-The Sanatorium

 

This is a mud brick structure located to the south of the Ptolemaic birth house. The function of this building is still much debated. According to F. Daumas, it functioned as a healing facility (Sanatorium) for the treatment of ailments using the sacred water. S. Cauville, on the other hand, believes it was used as a tinctorium, where fabrics used in the dressing of divine statues during the different temple rituals were dyed.

 

Sanatorium(s.), Sanatoria(pl.): عالجية مصحة

 Tinctorium: :مصبغة

 

The Temple of Isis (Iseum)

The temple of Isis is a small temple located to the south of the main temple of Hathor(Temple of Dendera). It was built by the Roman Emperor Augustus (Octavianus). It was dedicated to the birth of goddess Isis. The plan of this building is unique. The main part of the temple and the hypostyle hall are facing east, but the sanctuary was rotated to face north towards the main Temple of Dendera. Within the rear wall of the sanctuary, a statue of Osiris (now destroyed) was supported by the arms of Isis and Nephthys. 

 The Sacred Lake

It is located in the south western side of the main temple. It is rectangular in shape and is provided at each corner with a flight of steps.

The Dendera Light

Temple of Dendera includes three inscriptions (one image and two double images) of the light of Dandara, and these inscriptions were repeated frequently on the walls of the temple,

dendera light
dendera light

The temple consists of several large halls and a number of small catacombs distributed under the building.

In one of the catacombs at the bottom of the temple there is an exceptional and interesting inscription that looks like an electric lamp

In the inscription whose details are repeated on the wall more than once In a scene, a man with a huge corpse stands, holding in his hand an object resembling a pear-shaped glass cover.

Inside it is an inscription of a long crowned serpent.

💡 The overall shape resembles a modern electric lamp, and it is connected from the bottom to a small base in the shape of a lotus flower, connected by a long wire to a square-shaped body that looks like a battery on which a person sits.

There are three people sitting under the inscription of the lamp

🔪 Hathor sits under the lamp (on the right) in front of the frog-headed frog monkey on the right, holding knives in his hands symbolizing the air

The sun snake is supported by a grandfather column with arms, a symbol of stability and continuity.

The scholars explained in the inscription that the image of the monkey carrying the knives is a warning sign of the danger of electric shock that may occur when holding the lamp.

And the hieroglyphic writing found with the inscription talks about the rituals of the ancient Egyptian New Year celebrations.

 In the crypt at the bottom of the south wall is a scene depicting human figures next to objects resembling huge light bulbs.

Seated under the lamp Hathor (right) kneeling on a square pedestal,

🔥 Scientists did not find any trace of soot. They may have used olive oil as fuel for their lamps because it is clean when burning, but combustion needs air, so where is it in the basements and underground?

Which raises a question about the inscriptions, and inside the rooms that are decorated with these inscriptions It seems that they will never agree on how to build temples and tombs without lighting

Generally these scenes depict the creation of the universe, in an elongated bulb. Emerging from a lotus flower on a boat, the lotus was the first being to float on the primeval sea. 

From Venus also appears a serpent, which is equal to the rising rays of the sun that envelop the universe just as the sun that has recently risen from the abyss on the first day of the year

There is a saying that Temple of Dendera murals are incandescent lamps, Scholars interpret day and night boats as power lines, poles with high voltage insulators, and writhing snakes as electrical discharges. The small figures under the “light bulbs” are interpreted as positive and negative poles.

 and the knife-armored monkey is meant to indicate the dangers that might arise if handled incorrectly.

Temple of Dendera lamp provides an explanation for the lack of soot caused by the use of torches inside the rooms inside the pyramids and the huge stone temples where complete darkness and trapped air.

🔹 Some scholars did not accept hypotheses without clear and compelling evidence. Most scholars today agree that the inscription in the temple of Hathor does not depict an electric lamp, and that it is just symbols that refer to some of the sanctities of the ancient Egyptians, and that there is never any evidence that they knew anything about electricity and its applications.

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