Temple of Dendera

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The Temple of Dendera is an ancient Egyptian temple complex in Dendera , 55 km north of Luxor in Upper Egypt . It is one of the most important temple sites in Egypt and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor . The complex is located in the district of the ancient provincial capital Tentyris , which was considered an important religious center during some epochs of Egyptian history . Today's temple complex is one of the best preserved Egyptian temples of this time.

Great hypostyle of the Dendera temple

Building history

Today's temple complex dates from Greco-Roman times , but is based on previous buildings that go back to the Old Kingdom . In Dendera, Hathor cults can be traced back to prehistoric times using some sources and finds. According to texts in the crypts , the charter was written in predynastic times and allegedly reappeared in a box in the royal palace of Memphis at the time of Cheops . The early temple was expanded during the reign of Pepi I , who was the first pharaoh to bear the title "son of Hathor, mistress of Dendera", which indicates a special position Dendera had in the 6th dynasty .

The earliest structural remains date from the Middle Kingdom and can be found in the Ka chapel of Mentuhotep II. In a decree of Amenemhet I , temple festivals celebrated in Dendera are mentioned for the first time. Some reused blocks testify to building activities from Mentuhotep II in the Middle Kingdom to Shebitko in the 25th Dynasty . In the 18th dynasty , it was rebuilt under Thutmose III. and decoration by various rulers of the New Kingdom , including Amenhotep III. , Ramses II. And Ramses III.

Stages of construction of the main temple

In the late Ptolemaic period , the old predecessor buildings were demolished and the main temple was completely rebuilt in three stages. The first stage began on July 16, 54 BC. Chr. With the construction of the nuclear building under Ptolemy XII. Neos Dionysus . 29 BC The temple was completed to the point that the priests could begin their temple services. Tiberius began the pronaos with the famous Hathor capital columns , where the names of Caligula , Claudius and Nero can be found.

The third stage began under Nero with the construction of the inner stone wall, which was supposed to merge into a columned courtyard and an entrance gate, but remained unfinished. When laying the foundations of the wall, the Ptolemaic birth house was cut through, which Nero replaced with a magnificent new building directly behind the entrance gate. The house in which he was born in Rome bears the cartouches of Trajan and Antoninus Pius and was expanded and decorated up until the time of Marcus Aurelius . The gate at the northern entrance was built during the reign of Domitian and Trajan. Later the holy lake, the sanatorium and the Roman cisterns followed . The last building was the Coptic basilica from the fifth century.

Visitor and research history

Topographic map of the ruins, Description de l'Egypte (1817)

The temple was buried until the 19th century and could therefore be well preserved. The temple area was used and settled again and again after the Ptolemaic period, so that a huge rubble hill (Kom) formed east of the walls, which reached up to the temple roof and included it as a settlement area. The settlement layers on the other three sides were less strong, but the holy lake was completely buried and overlaid and the Mammisi was covered up to the roof and settled.

Roof of the East Gate, David Roberts (1838)

The oldest representations of the temple come from the Danish officer Frederic Louis Norden from 1737, who, however, never visited Dendera by land on his journey through Egypt. His descriptions of the landscape, the place and the ruins come from Richard Pococke and James Bruce , among others . Further historical representations can be found in the Description de l'Égypte (1800) and in David Roberts (1838). The descriptions by Giovanni Battista Belzoni indicate that the temple complex was still covered by piles of rubble and rubble in 1816, and that on the roof there was an uninhabited Arab village of derelict huts, which was noticed by Edward William Lane in 1826 . In 1845, Mohammed Ali initiated a partial excavation of the main temple in order to free it from medieval and modern layers. The temple front was exposed up to the level of the hypostyle barriers and the access was secured with a wall lane. The new condition was documented by numerous historical photographs.

Another uncovering took place from 1859 by Auguste Mariette . His research results, published in 1869, include a new topographical plan, which, as in the description, did not take the southern terrain into account, but instead shows parts of the eastern temple. The removal of the mound continued into the twentieth century by grave robbers who ransacked the temple precinct in search of antiques. The inscriptions on the temple complex were examined by Johannes Dümichen from 1865 to 1875 , by Mariette in 1879 and by Heinrich Brugsch in 1880 . A complete, systematic publication was carried out by the French Émile Gaston Chassinat , François Daumas and Sylvie Cauville. From 1897 to 1898 archaeological investigations were carried out by Flinders Petrie and Charles Rosher. Petrie was the first to discover the town of Dendera and its cemetery and began researching the burial ground. 1915 to 1918 systematic excavations of the University Museum of Philadelphia took place under the direction of Clarence Fisher.

Ludwig Borchardt and Herbert Ricke paid a visit in the 1920s . At this time the excavation was almost complete. On the east side the rubble was dug deep into the ground and only in the rear area did some masses of rubble reach up to the temple roof. An investigation and publication of the Mammisi took place in 1959 by Daumas. Barry J. Kemp found shards from the Old Kingdom within the Hathor district on the east side of the temple. When electrical light was installed in the autumn of 1978, intact remains of layers from the Old Kingdom were discovered. At the end of the twentieth century, inscriptions of the Temple of Isis, the northern entrance, and the monuments outside the enclosure wall were published. Architectural studies of the Temple of Hathor and the basilica were also carried out.

Temple complex


Processional street to the north gate

The temple of Dendera offers a wide range of typical late Egyptian temple features. Similar to other Egyptian temples, the complex is oriented towards the Nile , but not in an east-west but in a south-north direction, as the Nile makes a bend at this point. There is a grandstand on the banks of the Nile, from which an old processional street leads past the temples of the Shai and the Thermuthis . Located on the northern front of the Dendera temple several kiosks from Roman times and a Propylontor from the time of Domitian and Trajan , the center in the massive enclosing wall of mud bricks is embedded. The surrounding wall is 280 by 280 meters wide, ten meters thick and comes either from the time of Shabaka or from Roman times. Behind the gate the processional street continues to the main temple and is flanked by two birth houses and a sanatorium .

Temple of Hathor

Ground plan of the main temple

The main temple of the Hathor of Dendera measures 35 by 81 meters and is considered to be the last completely preserved temple house in Egypt. Only the painting, which was partially visible until the nineteenth century, has disappeared. The temple is an excellent example of late Ptolemaic temple architecture in Egypt and is very similar to the Edfu temple .

Atrium and large hypostyle

Hypostyle Hall
Main axis of the inner temple
Birth of the sun through a groove in the Wabet

The forecourt is surrounded by an unfinished stone wall. A striking difference to the other temples from this period is that there are no porticos and pylons at the entrance . The courtyard ends at the large hypostyle (pronaos), to which side entrances lead through the surrounding wall on the left and right.

The great hypostyle was built in the first century by Tiberius and has a unique facade with unusual proportions and recessed sistral columns. In contrast to earlier temples, the facade of the hypostyle was constructed with a half-height wall and columns above it. The pronaos is equipped with a total of 24 Hathor columns . The four-sided capitals are decorated with the face of the cow-eared Hathor and were partially destroyed during antiquity. The Hathor columns are the symbol of the temple and were badly damaged by early Christians to obscure the images of the pagan goddess. The hall ceiling, where the color is still recognizable, has a complex and finely crafted sky map with signs of the zodiac and images of the sky goddess Nut , who devours the sun disk in the evening and brings it back to the world in the morning.

Inner temple

Behind the pronaos is the small hypostyle (hall of apparitions), where the statue of the goddess brought from her sanctuary was displayed during religious ceremonies and processions. The murals show the king at the ceremony to establish the temple. There are three chambers on each side, which served as preparation rooms for daily rituals and for storing cult objects. The opening on the east side served as access for offerings, while the opening on the west side led to the fountain. From here begins the inner temple, which was built by several late Ptolemaic kings. There are many unlabeled cartridges on the walls, indicating troubled reigns. A small ramp leads from the apparition room to the sacrificial table room where the offerings for the goddess were deposited. Behind it is the Hall of the Enneads (or Hall of the Unity of the Gods ), where the statues of the deities were gathered during processions.


The central part of the inner temple is occupied by the barge- barn , which contained a portable barge and a stone shrine with the Hathor statue. The wall decorations show that the barque of Horus from Edfu was visiting during religious festivals . The room contained the boats of Harsomtus and Isis of Dendera. The barque sanctuary is surrounded by a corridor with eleven sacred chapels intended for deities associated with Hathor. These include the holy sistrum and the menat collar. The middle chapel in the back wall of the temple contained the sacred cult images and symbols of the goddess, the most sacred of which was stowed in a wall niche above. To the west of the Enneadensaal, a passage leads to an atrium and the Wabet , where the coronation and dressing ceremonies for the Hathor statue took place. The room has a two-column front and is closed by barrier walls. The ceiling is decorated with the birth of the sun. In front of it there is a small inner courtyard on the same level, which was intended for the dedication of the festival offering.


In the outer walls of the temple house there is a crypt system that is unique in Egyptian architecture . There are numerous crypts in the walls and under the floors in the back of the temple, which were used to store the temple's treasures. Access is via small, slab-covered entrances in the ground or in the walls. The crypts contained cult objects and cult images and reach down to the temple foundations. Of importance was the statue of ba der Hathor, which was brought from hiding to the temple roof during the Egyptian New Year . Mummy remains of sacred cows have been found in some crypts .

Temple roof

Procession on the wall of the stairs to the temple roof
Kiosk on the temple roof

To the west of the sacrificial room, a straight staircase leads to the temple roof. The wall pictures show figures of the king and the priests in the procession with the shrine of the goddess. A well-preserved 12-column kiosk is located on the roof in the southwest corner. The statue of the goddess was placed in the roof chapel overnight. The next morning the goddess should look at the rising sun in symbolic connection with the sun disk. The eastern staircase was used for the return of the processions.

Zodiac (now in the Louvre)

On the roof of the inner temple there are three-room cult places in the northwest and northeast, in which the death and resurrection of Osiris were celebrated. In the chapels the goddess Nut and various chthonic deities are depicted. The decorations were made between 50 and 48 BC. And were born on December 28, 47 BC. Chr. (26th  Choiak ) inaugurated. The date had a special astronomical meaning , as a zenithal full moon could be observed on the day , which occurs at this place only every 1480 years.

A copy of the famous zodiac is located in the central area of ​​the northeastern complex . The original was taken along during Napoleon's Egyptian expedition (1798–1801) and is now in the Louvre . The zodiac shows astrological signs and symbols and contributed to linking the death and resurrection of Osiris to cosmic processes. He attests to an astonishing astronomical knowledge of the Egyptian priests and according to astronomical studies he was born in 50 BC. Designed.

Another staircase leads from the roof of the inner temple to the roof of the hypostyle, on which various gods are depicted on the walls. During ancient times, the roof was occupied by devout pilgrims who waited for signs or miracles from the gods and passed their time with board games carved in stone blocks.

Outdoor area

Lion-headed gargoyle (south wall)
Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion

On the outer wall there is a shrine of the "hearing ear", in the form of a large false door, exactly at the place of the sanctuary. The sacred rock has been scraped off for centuries by pilgrims who had no access to the temple and who went to the site to offer prayers to the goddess. The rear wall of the rearmost temple area contains apotropaic , lion-headed gargoyles , which were used to channel rainwater from the roof. The wall shows huge representations of Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion .


The temple of Dendera has two birth houses ( Mammisi ). The Ptolemaic birth house dates from the 30th Dynasty and was of Nectanebo I built. It is located to the west of the entrance gate and was dedicated to Harsiese . The building was under Ptolemy VI. enlarged by a hypostyle and surrounded by pillars during the reign of Ptolemy X. Emperor Augustus furnished it with a new sanctuary for Hathor-Isis. The birth house was later cut through by the Roman surrounding wall, which led to the construction of the Roman birth house. The Roman building was built by Augustus immediately after his conquest of Egypt. The murals show Augustus' successor Trajan at the sacrificial ceremony for Hathor and are among the most beautiful in Egypt. The birth house was dedicated to Hathor and her child Ihi . On the abacus above the column capitals there are depictions of Bes as the patron god of birth.


Plan with main temple and ancillary buildings

To the west of the sanatorium stood the Ka chapel for the cult of Mentuhotep II , which was probably an outbuilding of the main temple from the Middle Kingdom . The chapel has since been removed and is now in the atrium of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo . There is also a Thot chapel, which was built by a scribe in the time of Ptolemy I , and a barque chapel, which was built from 122 to 116 BC. BC under Ptolemy VIII .

One of the larger outbuildings is the birth temple of Isis (Iseum) on the south side of the main temple, with an unusual floor plan. While the main building and the hypostyle face east, the sanctuary is turned ninety degrees north to the main temple. The back wall of the sanctuary contained a today destroyed statue of Osiris , which was supported on the arms of Isis and Nephthys .

The surrounding wall dates from the time of Nectanebo I , Ptolemy VI. and Ptolemy X. and contains reused blocks from Amenemhet I and Ramses II. In the portal is the name of Augustus.

In the south-western corner of the temple grounds is the holy lake , which contained water for the ablutions of the priests. The lake is 25 by 31 meters and has a ritual pool set in stone, to which stairs lead down at every corner of the lake and which is one of the best preserved. Between the birth houses are the remains of a sanatorium, unique in Egyptian temples, which was built from adobe bricks. Visitors could bathe in the holy waters or spend the night in the building to receive a healing dream from the goddess. There are also Roman cisterns and the remains of a Christian basilica from the fifth century. 400 meters east of the temple precinct is a 135 by 135 meter unexplored sanctuary of Ihi, who was considered the son of Hathor and Horus, with the city of Tentyris in between.

Hathor columns

Hathor Column

The Hathor column is characteristic of the temple of Dendera as a column type and occurs there several times. It is most noticeable in the north facade of the main temple, which is made up of 24 columns in four rows. The pillars are made of sandstone , have a diameter of 220 cm and were erected during the reign of Emperor Tiberius . The first six columns in the front row are connected by a barrier wall that extends halfway up the large hypostyle. Behind this are more three rows each with six columns, each of which has a four-sided Hathor - Capital with a superimposed set Naos contains shape.

The second hypostyle hall has six smaller columns with a shaft diameter of 160 cm and composite capitals . The column base and the two lower column drums are made of granite , the rest of the shaft and the Hathor capital are made of sandstone. All other pillars of the temple are made entirely of sandstone. Further Hathor capitals can be found in the Wabet chapel west of the barge sanctuary and on the roof kiosk. Some of the Hathor capitals in the roof chapel still bear the full face of the goddess, while most of the others in the temple were destroyed by early Christians.


Representations and inscriptions show that 162 different cult images were venerated in the temple, some of which were found again at the holy lake in 1918. The figures were 22.5 to 210 centimeters high. One of the most important celebrations in the temple was the Egyptian New Year , when priests took the western staircase to the roof with the Hathor statue, equipped with standards , cult symbols, figures of gods and mysterious implements. On the new moon day of the month of Epiphi the journey of the goddess to Edfu took place to unite with the Horus of Edfu . Nine months after the marriage between Hathor of Dendera and Horus of Edfu, the divine birth was celebrated in the Mammisi. The barque chapel next to the holy lake was the setting for the ship festival, which celebrated the return of the Hathor from Nubia . In the Osiris chapels on the roof of the main temple, the Osiris Mysteries took place in the month of Choiak , with the focus on the resurrection of Osiris.


The main gods of the Dendera Temple can be summarized in two triads , one of which consists of Hathor - Horus - Harsomtus and the other of Isis - Osiris - Harsiesis . The inscriptions indicate that a total of four different forms of Hathor and three of Harsomtus were worshiped. Bastet , Sachmet , Mut and Tefnut form another group of gods and internalize aspects of Hathor as vengeance and protection goddess. The remaining deities are the delta deities ( Wadjet , Hathor Nebethetepet , Iousaas) and deities from Memphis and Heliopolis . Re-Harachte is considered the father of Hathor. According to legend, he is said to have created Dendera to replace Heliopolis, whose name Iwnet represents the feminine form of Heliopolis ( Iwnw ).

See also


  • Dieter Arnold : The temples of Egypt . Artemis & Winkler, Zurich 1992, ISBN 3-7608-1073-X , p. 164-168 .
  • Dieter Arnold: Lexicon of Egyptian architecture . Albatros, Düsseldorf 2000, ISBN 3-491-96001-0 , p. 64-66 .
  • Hans Bonnet : Dendera . In: Lexicon of Egyptian Religious History . Nikol, Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-937872-08-6 , pp. 155-156 .
  • Cordula Brand: Archaeological traces in the area of ​​the Hathor Temple of Dendera . In: Gabriele Höber-Kamel (ed.): Kemet issue 2/2009 . Kemet Verlag, 2009, ISSN  0943-5972 , p. 62-65 .
  • Emma Brunner-Traut : Egypt - art and travel guide with regional studies . 4th edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart et al. 1982, ISBN 3-17-007350-8 , pp. 579-589 .
  • Sylvie Cauville: Le temple de Dendera - Guide archéologique . Institut français d'archéologie orientale le Caire, Caire 1990, ISBN 2-7247-0095-3 .
  • Sylvie Cauville: Dendera . In: Kathryn A. Bard (Ed.): Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt . Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-18589-0 , pp. 252-254 .
  • Richard H. Wilkinson : The world of temples in ancient Egypt . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-534-18652-4 , pp. 149-151 .
  • Pierre Zignani: Enseignment d'un temple egyptien . Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, Lausanne 2008, ISBN 978-2-88074-713-8 .

Web links

Commons : Temple Complex of Dendera  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Cauville: Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. 1999, p. 252.
  2. ^ Arnold: The temples of Egypt. 1992, p. 165.
  3. ^ Cauville: Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. 1999, pp. 252-253.
  4. Brand: Kemet issue 2/2009 , 2009, p. 62.
  5. Brand: Kemet Heft 2/2009 , 2009, pp. 62–63.
  6. a b c d Cauville: Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. 1999, p. 253.
  7. Brand: Kemet issue 2/2009 , 2009, p. 64.
  8. Brand: Kemet issue 2/2009 , 2009, p. 65.
  9. ^ A b Arnold: Lexicon of Egyptian Architecture. 2000, p. 64.
  10. a b Arnold: The temples of Egypt. 1992, p. 166.
  11. Wilkinson: The world of temples in ancient Egypt. 2005, p. 150.
  12. Wilkinson: The world of temples in ancient Egypt. 2005, p. 151.
  13. ^ J. Peter Phillips: The Columns of Egypt . Peartree Publishing, Manchester 2002, ISBN 0-9543497-0-9 , pp. 174-176 .
  14. ^ A b c Cauville: Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. 1999, p. 254.

Coordinates: 26 ° 8 ′ 30.6 "  N , 32 ° 40 ′ 12.4"  E