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The view from Dendera

Three crypts and the panoramic rooftop of Upper Egypt’s Dendera Temple have been opened to the public after restoration

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 3 Mar 2020
The Temple of Hathor at Dendera

Within the framework of Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities plans to preserve the Upper Egyptian Dendera Temple complex and develop the area around it into an open-air museum, three crypts and the rooftop of the temple in the Qena governorate have been opened to the public after restoration.

The cleaning of the temple’s decorated walls from bird deposits and smoke traces has been also carried out.

The Temple of Hathor at Dendera contains a number of small crypts on its eastern, southern, and western sides. These are thought to have served as warehouses or treasuries for ritual furnishings, sacred and ceremonial equipment, and the divine images used in celebrating various feasts and holidays.

The crypts are small, and it is unlikely that they served as the locations for formal rituals.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the newly opened crypts consisted of three of the 12 found beneath the temple and were originally used by ancient Egyptian priests for ritual practices and to store priceless objects.

They can be accessed only through small openings and have low ceilings and walls decorated with ancient Egyptian scenes. Only one of the crypts has previously been open to the public. Within the framework of the conservation project, restorers have cleaned and consolidated the walls of three of the crypts as well as the walls of the temple as a whole.

The rooftop of the temple has also not been previously accessible to visitors, but after restoration visitors can enjoy for the first time the panoramic view of Qena from the top of the building.

Waziri said that the temple conservation project had originally started in 2005, but had stopped in 2011 and then resumed in 2017.

In collaboration with a French archaeological mission, blocks, stelae and statues uncovered in the area and left in situ since their initial discovery have been restored and put on newly fabricated mounts in the open-air area of the temple. The displays include artefacts from the area’s store galleries.

Newly fabricated blocks have been placed in the open courtyard at the entrance of the temple, where a collection of statues of ancient Egyptian deities has been installed. Among these are statues of the goddess Hathor, the god Bes, and the falcon god Nekhbet Waawet.

The Dendera Temple, one of the best-preserved ancient Egyptian temples, is built mainly of sandstone, and it was uncovered in the mid-19th century by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

In its present form, the Temple of Dendera is largely Ptolemaic and Roman, its reconstruction having taken place under the Greek Ptolemies, the last dynasty of ancient Egypt (305-30 BCE), and completed some 185 years later under the Roman emperor Tiberius.

In dedicating a temple to Hathor, the Ptolemies honoured one of Egypt’s most popular deities.

Under Greek and Roman rule, Egyptian temples continued to have mammisi (birth houses), and the surviving mammisi at Dendera was reconstructed by the Roman emperor Augustus near the ruins of the one built by the Pharaoh Nectanebo and is adorned with reliefs added by the Roman emperor Trajan relating to the birth of the god Horus.

It was converted into a church in the fifth century CE, and a Christian basilica was built in the area between it and the original birth house of Nectanebo.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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