The Dendera Temple complex which contains the Temple of Hathor belongs to the best preserved ancient temples in all Egypt. The whole complex covers around 40,000 square meters and is surrounded by a hefty mud brick enclosed wall. The present building dates back to the times of the Ptolemaic dynasty and was completed by the Roman emperor Tiberius, but it rests on the foundations of earlier buildings dating back to the 4th dynasty [c. 2613–c. 2494 BC].
The 360° virtual tour contains several monuments that are usually not accessible to the public (ie. rooftop temples, Osirian chapels, Iseum). Besides the panoramic images, there is also detailed textual description about each of the monuments included in the virtual tour. Interesting details, like the XIX. and early XX. century graffitis have been highlighted.
1. What to see
The temple complex is famous for a carving of a zodiac that is now in Paris. Furthermore there are also Roman and pharaonic birth houses (Mammisi), ruins of a Coptic church, an Iseum and a sacred lake. The area around the temple offers a modern visitor centre.
1.1. Entrance gate
A massive 12.5m tall mudbrick enclosure wall still survives to encircle the temple complex. Originally a stone wall enclosed the temple on three sides with an entrance through a gateway built by Domitian, the remains forming the modern temple entrance. Ruins of Roman temples can be seen on either side of the way leading to this gate.
1.2. Ptolemaic birth-house
The first birth-house in Dendera was built by Nectanebo I to celebrate the birth of the young god Ihy, the son of Hathor and Horus of Edfu. Ihy represents the ecstasy of playing the sistrum and he was depicted as a nude child with his finger to his mouth. The walls of the wide hall of the birth-house depict the Ptolemaic kings offering to Hathor.
1.3. The Roman birth-house
It was built by Augustus with later reliefs by Trajan and Hadrian. The reliefs on the exterior walls portray the divine birth and childhood of the infant Horus, celebrated in rites to legitimise the divine descent of the king. In order to match the level of the Hathor temple, the new building was erected on a high platform. The core building contains a sequence of three rooms. Two corridors that isolate the large sanctuary are notable. These passages are too narrow to be used and must have been added for symbolic and optical effect. The rear wall of the sanctuary is dominated by an enormous false door that is framed by a double cavetto molding on slender columns and topped by an uraeus frieze.
1.4. Coptic Basilica
Between the two birth-houses are the remains of a Coptic Basilica dating from the 5th century AD. It has a nave with two aisles and a trefoil shaped sanctuary at the east end fronted by two columns which once supported an arch. The church is entered by way of two side doors at the western end that led into the narthex, which is connected to the nave by three doors.
1.5. Main temple
The most important monument of Dendera is the main temple of Hathor. It contains of two hypostyle halls leading to the sanctuary surrounded by small chambers. The smaller hypostyle hall is known as the ‘hall of appearances’ where the statue of the goddess would first appear on her annual journey from the temple. 6 Hathor columns support the roof which admits light through square apertures. The walls here depict scenes of the king involved in ritual foundation ceremonies, though the cartouches are left blank due to the uncertain times of the period.
The main temple cotains a special kiosk, called as the Wabet (purification chapel). Sacrifices were performed during the New Year’s feast in this small open-air court.
A unique monument of Dendera is the so called rooftop temple located right at the top of the main temple. It contains a central chapel decorated with 12 Hathor-headed columns and the eastern and western Osirian chapels. Please note that due to an accident that happened a few years ago, this area of the temple is nowdays not accessible to tourists. The statue of the goddess was brought out here on New Year’s morning to be reunited with the sun’s first rays, the solar disc. The festival procession would have left the roof by one of the staircases which descends down to the lower floor. Walkway leads to the eastern and western Osirian chapels from the central chapel.
Ruins of the sanatorium: as the goddess Hathor was powerful enough to heal the sick, many suffering from diseases came to her temple to stay. The sanatorium served as a sort of primitive hospital; cures were prescribed from dreams induced by narcotics.
1.7. Sacred lake
The rectangular sacred lake is located at the south-western corner of the temple complex. It is now empty apart from tall trees growing inside its walls. A flight of steps lead down to a terrace from each corner to give access to water when it was at a lower level.
The Iseum dates from the time of the Roman emperor Augustus. The walls of the small temple depict scenes of Hathor suckling the baby Horus, with depictions of Hathor as a cow-goddess on the east and west walls.
2. When to see
The temple complex of Dendera is open daily from 9:00 to 17:00.
4. How to get there
The best way is to enjoy a Nile cruise which includes excursions to the most important places between Aswan and Luxor. If you have a day off in Luxor, simply get a cab to bring you to Dendera.
If staying in Hurghada (like our photographers did), you have to cross the desert to get to Dendera which should take you around 2 and half, maximum 3 hours. Please note that local cabs operating only winthin tourist restorts are not allowed to bring you to Dendera.
It is not recommended to drive on your own in Egypt due to the general negligance of driving rules. Singposts are usually written not only in Arabic, but it might be difficult to find remote places on your own. Our team has shot the 360° virtual tour in June 2010, at that time it was not allowed to travel in the Nive valley without papers and it was common to find lots of checkpoints.
5. Where to stay
Staying for overnight is definitely not recommended in Dendera due to security reasons, depending on the actual situation, police might even ask you to leave the town before the evening sets in. On the other hand, you can find a variety of hotels in Luxor, from 2* hotels that are ideal for backpackers to 5* luxuary resorts. If taking part at a Nile cruise, you'll stay on your ship.
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