Dendera Temple complex

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Coordinates: 26°8′30″N 32°40′13″E / 26.14167°N 32.67028°E / 26.14167; 32.67028

Temple of Hathor, Dendera
Satellite buildings of the Dendera Temple complex

Dendera Temple complex (Ancient Egyptian: Iunet or Tantere; the 19th-century English spelling in most sources, including Belzoni, was Tentyra) 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 massive mudbrick compound walls seen from the temple roof

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
  • Sanatorium
  • 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.[1] The necropolis runs the eastern edge of the western hill and over the northern plain.

Hathor temple[edit]

Entrance to the Dendera Temple complex
Reliefs of Cleopatra VII and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion at the Dendera Temple
Plan of Hathor Temple

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.[2] The existing structure began construction in the late Ptolemaic period, and the hypostyle hall was built in the Roman period under Tiberius.[3]

Layout elements of the temple:

Depictions of Cleopatra VI which appear on temple walls are good examples of Ptolemaic Egyptian art.[4] 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), fathered by Julius Caesar.[5]

Dendera zodiac[edit]

Denderah zodiac

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.[6] Champollion's guess that it was Ptolemaic proved to be correct, and Egyptologists now date it to the first century BC.[7]


The subterranean Hathor temple tombs total 12 chambers. Some reliefs are dated to as late as the Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos reign. 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. He offers 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[edit]

Dendera light, showing the single representation on the left wall of the right wing in one of the crypts

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.[8][9]

In contrast to this interpretation, there is a fringe science suggestion that it is actually a representation of an Ancient Egyptian lightbulb.[10]

Ceiling cleaning[edit]

Recently cleaned ceiling of the Temple of Hathor

The ceiling of the Hathor Temple has recently been cleaned in a careful way that removed hundreds of years of black soot without harming the ancient paint underneath. Spectacular ceiling painting has been 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barbara Ann Kipfer, "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology".
  2. ^ Barbara Ann Kipfer, "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology". Page 153
  3. ^ Wilkinson, Richard H. (2000). The Temples of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. p. 149
  4. ^ John Pentland Mahaffy, "A History of Egypt Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty". Methuen & Co., 1899. 261 pages. Page 237 and 248.
  5. ^ Mahaffy, Page 251.
  6. ^ "Egypt's Most Wanted: An Antiquities Wish List". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  7. ^ Archived 2009-03-14 at the Wayback Machine Napoleon and the Scientific Expedition to Egypt
  8. ^ Wolfgang Waitkus, Die Texte in den unteren Krypten des Hathortempels von Dendera: ihre Aussagen zur Funktion und Bedeutung dieser Räume, Mainz 1997 ISBN 3-8053-2322-0 (tr., The texts in the lower crypts of the Hathor tempels of Dendera: their statements for the function and meaning of these areas)
  9. ^ "Dendera Temple Crypt Archived 2010-04-25 at the Wayback Machine".
  10. ^ Hornung, Helmut (2000). "Fantastereien". Max Planck Forschung (in German). p. 72.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]