The Temple of Dendera
Dendera is the Arabic name for the ancient Egyptian town Iwn or Iwnt. In the Late Period, the epithet “tꜣ-ntrt” which means “the land of the goddess”, refers to goddess Hathor, the chief goddess of Dendera. In the Graeco-Roman Period, Dendera was called Tentira.
Dendera is situated on the edge of the Western Desert on the west bank of the Nile, about 60 km. to the north-west of Luxor and 4 km to the north of Qena. Dendera was the capital of the 6th Nome of Upper Egypt, which was called “ik”.
The importance of Dendera was due to the fact that it was the main cult center of goddess Hathor whom the Greeks identified with Aphrodite, their goddess of love, music and beauty. Moreover, it was situated at the crossroad of Eastern Desert and the Red Sea.
The triad of Dendera consists of Hathor and Horus Behdety and their son Ihy.
Dendera flourished twice during its long history. The first time was during the Old Kingdom and the second time was during the Graeco-Roman Period.
The cemetery of Dendera is situated outside the mud brick enclosure wall of the Dendera temple to the south side. This cemetery extends for a distance of 2/3 of a mile and it covers an area of about 100 acres. This cemetery was in use from the Pharaonic Period until the Islamic Period.
The History of the Construction of this Temple:
The history of the construction of Dendera temple goes back to the early period of the Egyptian history, then, it was renewed during the reign of King Cheops when the cult of Ihy was introduced.
Then, this temple was restored during the 6th Dynasty. King Mentuhotep (Nb-Hpt-Ra) of the 11th Dynasty built a limestone chapel there, which is now in the Cairo Museum.
Stone blocks carrying the names of Amenemhat I, Senusert I and Amenemhat III of the 12th Dynasty as well as the name of King Ahmose of the 18th Dynasty were found there.
Some scholars believe that King Thutmosis III rebuilt this temple. Moreover, he built another temple for god Amun-Re. There are also some objects which date back to the reign of King Ramses II and King Ramses III. King Shabaqa of the 25th Dynasty built the enclosure wall of the temple. There is also a mammisi which dates back to the reign of King Nectanebo I of the 30th Dynasty as well as another mummisi which dates back to the Roman Period.
Recent studies revealed that there were three temples at Dendera:
1. The first one for Hathor.
2. The second was for Horus Behdty.
3. The third one for their son Ihy.
The temple of Hathor is the only temple which survived. This temple was built at the right angle of the Nile and its main axis runs from east to west.
The construction of the present temple of Hathor goes back to the 27th year of the reign of King Ptolemy XII. Then, this temple was completed in the 9th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus Octavious, and therefore it is believed that the construction of this temple took about 34 years. However, other scholars believed that this temple was completed in the 21st year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (35 A.D).
According to some scholars, the name of Queen Cleopatra VII was mentioned twice in this temple, while other scholars believed that the name was mentioned 73 times.
Description of the temple:
This temple was dedicated for the cult of goddess Hathor and her triad. It measures 221 m in length, 230 m in width and 10 m in thickness.
The present temple is surrounded by a large temenos. It measures 280 m. in length and its height varies between 10 to 20 m. This temenos (enclosure wall) suffered from some damage at the hands of the Copts. It contains many monuments. They are the temple of Hathor, the domain of Isis, the Sacred lake, the chapel of the barge, wells, the mammisi of Nectanebo I, the Roman mammisi, the chapel of Montuhotep II, the chapel of Thoth’s oracle, the sanatorium and the Coptic basilica.
The gate to the temple is situated at the middle of the northern side of the temenos wall. It consists of two Corinthian columns.
The temple proper of Hathor consists of a pronaos and a naos which consists of a hypostyle hall, an offering hall, hall of the Ennead and the sanctuary. It is surrounded by ambulatory and side chambers.
It was built during the reign of the Roman Emperor ‘Augustus Octavious’, and it was decorated during the reign of the Roman Emperor ‘Tiberius’.
The roof of the pronaos is supported by 24 Hathoric columns arranged in four rows.
The façade of the pronaos consists of six Hathoric columns connected with each other by screen walls. They were decorated with scenes representing the Roman Emperor ‘Tiberius’ and the Roman Emperor ‘Claudius’ while making offerings for the chief deities of the temple: Hathor, Horus Bhdty and Ihy. There is also another scene representing the Roman Emperor ‘Tiberius’ as a sphinx before Hathor and Ihy.
The roof of the pronaos is decorated with astronomical scenes, the most important of which is a scene representing goddess Nut as a woman while swallowing the sun-disk and giving birth to it again.
I. The Hypostyle Hall:
It is also called ‘the Hall of Appearance’. Its roof is supported by six Hathoric pillars arranged in three rows. This hall is square in shape and its walls are decorated with offering scenes and one of the most important scenes is that representing the Roman Emperor ‘Augustus Octavious’ while giving a golden necklace and a pendant to goddess Hathor. On the wall of this hall, there is a temple festival calendar. This hall is surrounded by 6 rooms, three on either side.
On the left hand side:
The first room is called ‘the Perfume Room’.
The second room is called ‘the Harvest Room’.
The third room is called ‘the Offering Room’.
On the other side:
The left room is called ‘the Jewellery Room’.
The central room is called ‘the Nile Room’.
The last room is called ‘the Offering Room’, which has a staircase leading to the roof of the temple.
II. The Hall of Offerings:
Its wall is decorated with a scene representing King Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysus) while burning incense and giving flowers to goddess Hathor.
There is also a scene for god Hapy, the Nile god, and goddess Sekhat, goddess of the fields. This hall was used for performing the daily rituals.
III. The Hall of the Ennead / Deities:
The most important scene on the walls of this hall is representing King Ptolemy XII while giving offerings to Horus Behdety. This hall was the place where the deities meet in order to protect goddess Hathor during the religious festivals.
IV. The Sanctuary:
A doorway at the back of the Ennead Hall leads to the sanctuary. It is now empty from its contents, but according to the scenes on its wall, there was a naos containing a statue of goddess Hathor and the sacred bark.
V. The Ambulatory and VI. The Side Chambers:
The sanctuary is surrounded by an ambulatory and 11 side chambers. They are divided as follows: three on the right-hand side; four at the back; and four on the left-hand side.
The 1st, 5th, 8th, 10th and the 11th are known as ‘the side chambers of Hathor’.
The 2nd one is known as ‘the chamber of Isis’.
The 3rd one is known as ‘the chamber of Sokar-Osiris’.
The 4th one is known as ‘the chamber of Horus’. The 6th one is known as ‘the chamber of Sistra’.
The 9th one is known as ‘the chamber of the throne of Re’.
On either side of the staircase leading to the roof of the temple, there are scenes representing 24 priests while carrying the statues for goddess Hathor in order to celebrate the New Year festival, which was celebrated on the 19th of July.
Other festivals were celebrated at this temple such as: ‘the Festival of Darkness’, which took place on the 20th of Twt and ‘the Festival of the Sacred Marriage’ or ‘the Good Reunion’.
On the roof of the temple, there are:
a. The Chapel of Osiris
b. The New Year Room which has no roof.