Astonishing Archaic Temple of Dendur

Honoring the goddess Isis, the gods Harpocrates and Osiris, and 2 deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain — Pedesi (”he whom Isis has given”) and Pihor (”he who belongs to Horus”) — the Temple of Dendur was a Nubian temple built during the Roman period around 15 B.C.

Temple of Dendur. 

Egyptian temples were far more than houses for a cult image — they represented a variety of religious and mythological concepts in their design and decoration. One important symbolic aspect was based on the understanding of the temple as an image of the natural world as the Egyptians knew it.

The temple of Dendur was commissioned by Emperor Augustus of Rome, constructed from sandstone, measuring 82 feet (25 meters) from the gate to the rear and 26 feet (8 meters) from the bottom to the highest point.

Temple of Dendur. 
Drawing of the Temple of Dendur in its original location by Henry Salt (1780–1827). The drawing was made by Salt during an expedition to southern Egypt and northern Sudan in 1819.

Sahura and a deity. 

It’s elaborately decorated with reliefs, the coloring of which has perished over time. The temple base is adorned with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants growing out of the water of the Nile, which is symbolized by figures of the Nile god Hapy. 

The two columns on the porch rise to the sky like tall bundles of papyrus stalks bound with with lotus blossoms.

Over the temple gate and the entrance to the temple proper, images of the sun disk flanked by the outspread wings of the sky god Horus represent the sky. The sky is also represented by the vultures, wings outspread, that appear on the ceiling of the entrance porch.

Egyptian reliefs. 
Temple of Dendur. 
Statue of a pharaoh. 

On the outer walls, carved scenes of the Emperor Augustus are depicted as a pharaoh making offerings to the deities Isis, Osiris, and their son Horus who hold scepters and the symbol of life, and identified by their crowns and the inscriptions beside their figures. 

These scenes are repeated in the first room of the temple in two horizontal registers where Caesar of Rome is shown praying and making offerings. The king is identified by his regalia and his names, which appear close to his head in elongated oval shapes called cartouches. Many of the cartouches simply read “pharaoh.”

As ruler of Egypt, Augustus had himself depicted in the traditional regalia of the pharaoh, and had many temples erected in Egyptian style, honoring Egyptian deities.

Egypt dynasty. 

The middle room, which was used for offerings, and the sanctuary of Isis at the rear of the temple are undecorated with the exception of reliefs around the door frame and back wall of the sanctuary. The back wall shows Pihor and Pedesi as young gods worshiping Isis and Osiris, which was partly destroyed.

In the 19th century, graffiti was left on the temple walls by visitors from Europe.

Temple of Dendur 19th century graffiti. 
Scene of the Trojan war. 
Marble stele (grave marker) of a youth and little girl with capital and finial in the form of a sphinx. 530 B.C. 

The temple was removed from its original location in Dendur — known as Tutzis in ancient times — about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the town of Aswan in 1963 in order to save it from being submerged by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

It was given to the U.S. by Egypt in 1965 in recognition of the American assistance in saving various other monuments threatened by the dam’s construction. The stone blocks of the temple weighed more than 800 tons in total with the largest pieces weighing over 6.5 tons, which took 661 crates to transport to the U.S. 

Rishi coffins. 
Egyptian coffin. 
Imhotep’s coffin. 

On April 27 1967, the temple was awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and installed in the Sackler Wing in 1978, where they also have a large Egyptian display. Inside the Sackler Wing, a reflecting pool in front of the temple and a sloping wall behind it represent the Nile and the cliffs of the original location. 

The glass on the ceiling and north wall of the Sackler is stippled in order to diffuse the light and mimic the lighting in Nubia.

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