Dendera Temple to reopen soon

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 15 Feb 2022

The second phase of the Dendera Temple restoration project will be completed soon, paving the way to its reopening to the public, reports Nevine El-Aref

Dendera Temple
Dendera Temple

On the west bank of the Nile opposite the modern town of Qena stands the beautiful Temple of Dendera, with its soaring columns, shrines, crypts, halls, and extravagant Zodiac ceiling and wall reliefs commemorating one of the most popular and powerful ancient Egyptian deities, Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty, music, dancing, fertility, and pleasure.

Today, restorers wearing white gowns, face masks, and plastic gloves are standing on wooden scaffolding brushing the marks of time off the temple’s walls, while others are cleaning the reliefs and revealing original colours hidden for decades under dust, bird deposits, and dirt.

“We are rediscovering the temple and its interior decorations that have been concealed for decades under dust,” said one restorer while cleaning a part of a column inside the temple’s colonnaded hall. She added that the original colours of the relief have been revealed and it looks as vivid as if it had been painted yesterday.

“Returning the temple to its original allure was not easy,” the restorer said, adding that it had taken months of work to complete the task.

“The second phase of the restoration project started in March 2021, and it should be completed next month,” Gharib Sonbol, a restoration and preservation consultant at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said that the work was carried out in this phase on the temple’s small colonnaded hall, known as the transfiguration hall, the five side halls surrounding it, and the deity Nut’s shrine. All the dirt and bird deposits were removed from the walls and the reliefs were consolidated, while the paintings were cleaned revealing their original colours. A new lighting system has also been installed.

Abdel-Hakim Al-Sagheer, in charge of the Dendera Temple, said that the conservation project had originally started in 2005 but had stopped in 2011 and then resumed in 2017.

In 2019, in collaboration with a French archaeological mission, blocks, stelae and statues that were uncovered in the area and left in situ since their initial discovery were restored and put on newly fabricated mounts in the open-air area of the temple. The displays include artefacts from the 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.

In 2020, the first phase of the temple’s restoration project started as part of a plan by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to preserve the temple complex and develop the area around it into an open-air museum. This phase included the restoration and cleaning of three crypts, the rooftop of the great hall, the entrance façade, and the birth kiosk known as the mammisi. All these were opened to the public.

The temple 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, however, and they likely did not serve as the sites of formal rituals.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the SCA, said that three of the 12 crypts found beneath the temple were opened during the first phase of the project and within the second one five more will be opened.

The crypts can only be accessed through small openings and have low ceilings and walls decorated with ancient Egyptian scenes. Only one of the crypts was previously open to the public.

The rooftop of the temple was also not previously accessible to visitors, but after its restoration and inauguration early last year, visitors can now enjoy the panoramic view of Qena from the top of the building for the first time.

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

In its present form, the temple is largely Ptolemaic and Roman, its reconstruction having taken place under the 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.

Hathor, the deity of the temple, was one of the 42 state gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt and one of the most popular and powerful. She was also the protector of women and had priests and priestesses in her temples.

Her centre of worship was Dendera, and her veneration began early in Egypt’s history, possibly in the Predynastic Era. She was the daughter of Re and was sometimes called “the Eye of Re” (a title shared with the gods Bast and Sekhmet, among others) in her role as the sun god’s defender.

As the wife of Horus, she was associated with the mother of the Pharaoh in her role as Horus’ nurse, and also with the wife of the Pharaoh in her role as Horus’s consort.

In her role as goddess of beauty, she was the patron of cosmetics. Wearing cosmetics was seen as a form of worship of Hathor, and offerings of mirrors or cosmetic palettes to her were common. Every year, her statue would be carried in a boat to Edfu to be reunited with Horus. A festival celebrating their union would then begin.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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