Dendera Temple complex (Ancient Egyptian: Iunet or Tantere; the 19th-century English spelling in most sources, including Belzoni, was Tentyra; also spelled Denderah) is located about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) south-east of Dendera, Egypt. It is one of the best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt. The area was used as the sixth nome of Upper Egypt, south of Abydos.
The whole complex covers some 40,000 square meters and is surrounded by a hefty mudbrick enclosed wall. Dendera was inhabited in prehistory, a useful oasis on the banks of the Nile. It seems that pharaoh Pepi I (ca. 2250 BC) built on this site and evidence exists of a temple in the Eighteenth Dynasty (ca 1500 BC). The earliest extant building in the compound today is the mammisi raised by Nectanebo II – last of the native pharaohs (360–343 BC). The features in the complex include:
- Hathor temple (the main temple)
- Temple of the birth of Isis
- Sacred Lake
- Mammisi of Nectanebo II
- Christian Basilica
- Roman Mammisi
- a Barque shrine
- Gateways of Domitian and Trajan
- the Roman Kiosk
Nearby is the Dendera necropolis, a series of mastaba tombs. The necropolis dates from the Early Dynastic Period of the Old Kingdom to the First Intermediate Period of Egypt. The necropolis runs the eastern edge of the western hill and over the northern plain.
The dominant building in the complex is the Temple of Hathor. The temple has been modified on the same site starting as far back as the Middle Kingdom, and continuing right up until the time of the Roman emperor Trajan. The existing structure began construction in the late Ptolemaic period at the time of Ptolemy Auletes in July 54 BCE. and the hypostyle hall was built in the Roman period under Tiberius.
In Egypt, Trajan was quite active in constructing buildings and decorating them. He appears, together with Domitian, in offering scenes on the propylon of the Temple of Hathor. His cartouche also appears in the column shafts of the Temple of Khnum at Esna.
Layout elements of the temple are:
- Large Hypostyle Hall
- Small Hypostyle Hall
- Storage magazine
- Offering entry
- Exit to well
- Access to stairwell
- Offering hall
- Hall of the Ennead
- Great Seat and main sanctuary
- Shrine of the Nome of Dendera
- Shrine of Isis
- Shrine of Sokar
- Shrine of Harsomtus
- Shrine of Hathor's Sistrum
- Shrine of gods of Lower Egypt
- Shrine of Hathor
- Shrine of the throne of Rê
- Shrine of Rê
- Shrine of Menat collar
- Shrine of Ihy
- The Pure Place
- Court of the First Feast
- Staircase to roof
Depictions of Cleopatra VI which appear on temple walls are good examples of Ptolemaic Egyptian art. On the rear of the temple exterior is a carving of Cleopatra VII Philopator (the popularly well known Cleopatra) and her son, Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar (Caesarion), who was fathered by Julius Caesar.
The sculptured Dendera zodiac (or Denderah zodiac) is a widely known relief found in a late Greco-Roman temple, containing images of Taurus (the bull) and the Libra (the balance). A sketch was made of it during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. In 1820 it was removed from the temple ceiling by French colonizers and replaced with a fake. There is controversy as to whether they were granted permission by Egypt's ruler, Muhammad Ali Pasha, to do so, or whether they stole it. The real one is now in the Louvre. Champollion's guess that it was Ptolemaic proved to be correct, and Egyptologists now date it to the first century BC.
The subterranean Hathor temple tombs total twelve chambers. Some reliefs are dated to as late as the reign of Ptolemy XII Auletes. The crypts reportedly were used for storing vessels and divine iconography. An opening in the "Flame Room" floor leads to a narrow chamber with representations on the walls of the objects which were kept in them. In the second chamber, a relief depicts Pepi I offering a statuette of the god Ihy to four images of Hathor. In the crypt, reached from the "throne room", Ptolemy XII has jewelry and offerings for the gods.
The Dendera light
The Hathor Temple has a relief sometimes known as the Dendera light because of a controversial fringe thesis about its nature. The Dendera light images comprise five stone reliefs (two of which contain a pair of what fringe authors refer to as lights) in the Hathor temple at the Dendera Temple complex located in Egypt. The view of Egyptologists is that the relief is a mythological depiction of a djed pillar and a lotus flower, spawning a snake within, representing aspects of Egyptian mythology.
The ceiling of the Hathor Temple was cleaned in a careful way that removed hundreds of years of black soot without harming the ancient paint underneath. Spectacular ceiling painting was exposed in the main hall, and some of the most vibrant and colourful paintings dating from antiquity are now visible.
The Dendera complex has long been one of the most tourist-accessible ancient Egyptian places of worship. It used to be possible to visit virtually every part of the complex, from the crypts to the roof. However, the highest part of the roof of Hathor temple has been closed since 2003. The second stage of the roof was closed in November 2004, after a tourist got too close to the edge and fell to her death on the bedrock below.
Digitally manipulated photograph of an interior wall in the Mammisi, highlighting the bas-relief
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