Egypt a 100 years ago: The Temple of Dendera

Fathi Saleh, Monday 14 Mar 2016

In our second story in the 'Egypt a 100 years ago' series, we showcase an architectural gem: the Temple of Dendara


The drive of this monthly series is to show Egypt a 100 years ago through postcards collected by Egyptologist George Darresy while working in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. 

This collection is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris and contains images addressing a range of subjects in everyday life, including Pharaonic, Islamic, Coptic as well as modern life aspects.

The Darresy collection is of great value through its pictorial representation of Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. The collection complements books published by France after the French Expedition at the beginning of the 19th century. Inspired by the collection, as cultural counselor of Egypt to France I presented to the director-general of UNESCO the request that the collection be included in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" programme.

In this article we are exploring, from this collection, some photos of the Temple of Dendera. Note that the dates on some pictures carry two digits for the year, so we should add 1900 to it since it is from the last century.


Dendera, known as "Iunet" or "Tantere," was the capital of the 6th Upper Egyptian nome and is one of the historically and religiously important sites. The site is famous for the well preserved and magnificent Temple of Hathor. It is surrounded by various sanctuaries and mamisis (Birth Houses) and protected by an enclosure wall 280 metres in length. The main temple dates to the Ptolemaic and Roman period and is dedicated to Hathor, the cow goddess whose main cult centre was Dendera. She was the goddess of motherhood, fertility, agriculture, joy, love and music. She was also a sky goddess and a goddess of the underworld.  


The temple has an imposing façade constructed as a low screen divided by six columns rather than a large pylon as in most Upper Egyptian temples from the time. Dendera Temple is famous for its astronomical scenes. The ceiling of the first hypostyle hall retains much of its original colour and is divided into seven bands of astronomical figures, including signs of the zodiac, the 14 cycles of the moon and images of the sky goddess Nut swallowing the sun in the evening and giving birth to it at dawn.


A doorway leads from the large hypostyle hall to the Hall of Appearances. The hall has six Hathor-headed columns with granite bases supporting the ceiling. It was here that the statue of the goddess appeared from her sanctuary during certain religious ceremonies and also before her annual journey to visit her consort, Horus, in Edfu Temple. During these festivals, the priests and priestesses used to pray and sing to Hathor and to the other deities whose names are written to the left of the entrance door to the hall. 






Fathi Saleh is consultant to the prime minister for heritage affairs, founder and emeritus director of CULTNAT, and former ambassador of Egypt to UNESCO.





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