Temple of Hathor, Dendera
Ignoring for the moment the smaller buildings to the right of the entrance, we proceed straight ahead to the Temple of Hathor, oriented approximately north and south. This was built during the reigns of the last Ptolemies and the Emperor Augustus (first century B.C.) on the site of an earlier temple traditionally believed to date from the Old Kingdom (at least sixth Dynasty) which was altered or added to principally by the kings of the 12th Dynasty and by the great rulers of the New Kingdom (in particular Tuthmosis III and Ramesses II and III). Some of the mural reliefs were executed at still later dates. The normal colonnaded forecourt and pylons at the north entrance were never constructed. The Dendera Temple lacks the magnificence of earlier temples like those of Abydos and Karnak, but it impresses the beholder with its fine proportions and dignified adaptation to its purpose. Although the profusion of reliefs and inscriptions on the walls cannot be compared with the master works of the Old Kingdom or the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Sethos I they are, nevertheless, excellent examples of the Egyptian decorative art of the Late Period.
Temple of Hathor - Vestibule
We come first into the large Vestibule or Pronaos, which has 24 sistrum columns with heads of Hathor. The facade is crowned by a massive cavetto cornice, in the middle of which is a winged solar disc. On the upper edge of the cornice is a three line Greek inscription: "For the Emperor Tiberius Caesar, the new Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, under the prefect Aulus Avillius Flaccus, the governor Aulus Fulvius Crispus and the district governor Sarapion son of Trychambus, the people of the city and the nome dedicated the pronaos to Aphrodite, the great goddess, and her fellow gods in the ... year of the Emperor Tiberius."The interior of the vestibule is shut off by six screens between the columns in the first row. On the interior walls are four rows of scenes depicting the Emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero as Pharaohs presenting votive offerings to Hathor and other deities. The reliefs on the screens between the columns, which related to the ceremonial entrance of the Pharaoh into the temple, have been chiseled out.The reliefs on the screens to the right of the entrance depict the King, with the crown of Lower Egypt, leaving the palace, with his guardian spirit behind him and a priest with a censer in front of him; the falconheaded Horus and the ibis headed Thoth pouring the sanctifying water over the King, the water being represented by the hieroglyphs for "life"; and the protective goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt blessing the King. On the screens to the left of the entrance are similar scenes with the King wearing the crown of Upper Egypt. On the left hand (west) wall is a relief depicting the King being conducted into the presence of Hathor by Month and Atum, the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt.The ceiling of the hall is divided by the architraves into seven bands, in which are depicted the following scenes (from left to right): 1. the sky goddess Nut, below her the signs of the zodiac and boats with personifications of the stars, and the sun shining on the temple, here represented by the head of Hathor; 2. deities of the stars and the hours of the day and night; 3. phases of the moon and the course of the sun during the 12 hours of the day; 4. flying vultures and suns; 5-7. scenes corresponding to 1-3.
Temple of Hathor - Hypostyle Hall
The rear wall of the vestibule forms the facade of the temple proper; it is surmounted by a cavetto cornice and a round moulding. In the center is a door leading into the Hypostyle Hall ("Hall of Appearances"), the roof of which is supported by six columns with elaborate foliage capitals and Hathor heads. The base and the two lowest drums of the columns are of granite, the rest of sandstone. Light is admitted by eight square apertures in the roof. On the walls are four rows of reliefs depicting the King in presence of the deities of Dendera. Here, as in some other rooms in the temple, the King's name is missing, no doubt because the priests were uncertain, in the unsettled times when the temple was being built, which ruler should be selected for the honor.Of particular interest are a number of reliefs in the bottom row depicting the ceremonies connected with the foundation of the temple. To the right of the entrance the King emerges from the palace wearing the Lower Egyptian crown, preceded by a priest offering incense; and to the left of this scene he is seen breaking up the soil with a hoe, with the goddess Hathor in front of him. To the left of the entrance are similar scenes in which the King is wearing the crown of Upper Egypt (on right he presents bricks to Hathor, representing the building material of the temple).On each side of the hall are three chambers, some dark and some lit by apertures in the roof, which may have served as a laboratory, treasure rooms and storerooms for votive offerings. The inscriptions and reliefs on the walls show the King in the presence of Hathor and other deities, including Horus of Dendera.
From the hypostyle hall we enter the First Antechamber or Hall of Offerings, which is lit by apertures in the roof and walls. The walls have four rows of reliefs depicting the King making offerings to Hathor and other deities. To the right and left are passages leading to staircases up to the roof of the temple. Also on the left is a chamber used for sacrificial offerings.
Temple of Hathor - Staircases
From the First Antechamber two staircases lead up to the roof. The east staircase, which is very dark, runs straight up to the roof, with easy steps; the one on the west is a kind of spiral staircase with ten right angled bends, lit by windows with representations of the sun shining in. The mural reliefs in both staircases depict the solemn procession of the King and priests, some of whom wear the masks of lesser deities, during the New Year festival; on the left hand side they are shown ascending to the roof of the temple with images of Hathor and the other gods of the temple, "so that the goddess might be united with the beams of her father Re", on the right-hand side they are seen descending after the ceremony. The west staircase passes a small chamber (situated above the storeroom adjoining the Second Antechamber) with three windows looking into the court. Higher up is a small (closed) court, adjoining which are two rooms dedicated, like the chapel on the east side of the terrace, to the cult of Osiris; the reliefs in the second room depict the resurrection of Sokar-Osiris.
Temple of Hathor - Second Antechamber
The Second Antechamber, which is lit by openings in the side walls, also has four rows of reliefs. To the left is a small chamber used for storing unguents and the garments in which the divine images were dressed on festival occasions. The door on the right leads into three chambers. The first, linked with the west staircase by a corridor, was a store room. Beyond this, after crossing an open court and going up a (modern) flight of steps, we come to a charming kiosk, the roof of which is supported by two sistrum columns linked with the walls by screens rising to half the height of the columns. Here the priests assembled for the celebrations of Hathor's birthday and the New Year festival which followed. In the court were made the votive offerings which are depicted on the walls. On the walls of the kiosk are three rows of scenes depicting the King and various deities in the presence of the gods of Dendera; below is a procession of local gods (Upper Egyptian on the left, Lower Egyptian on the right) bearing votive offerings. On the ceiling is the sky goddess Nut bringing forth the Sun, whose rays shine on the Temple of Dendera, represented by the head of Hathor between two trees on a mountain. In the rear wall of the court are three windows separated by pillars bearing Hathor heads. From the court a staircase leads down to a crypt.
Temple of Hathor - Sanctuary
From the second antechamber we pass into the inmost part of the temple, described in an inscription as the "hidden secret chambers". The central door leads into the dark Sanctuary, the "great seat", in which stood the sacred boats with the images of the gods. Only the King or a priest representing him was permitted to enter this chamber and hold converse with the deity, and even he might enter only during the New Year festival. The reliefs on the walls depict the ceremonies which had to be performed on entering the sanctuary and the presentation of offerings. The scenes are so arranged that each scene on the lefthand wall is followed by the corresponding scene on the right hand wall, thus: the King ascends the steps leading up to the shrine (left); he removes the ribbon fastening the door (right); he removes the seal from the door (left) and opens it (right); he gazes upon the goddess (left) and prays to her with his arms hanging by his sides (right); he offers incense before the sacred barques of Hathor and Horus of Edfu (left) and of Hathor and her son Ihi (right). On the rear wall, to the left, the King presents an image of the goddess Maat to Hathor and Horus of Edfu; in front of him is Hathor's young son with a sistrum and a rattle. On the right he performs the same action before Hathor and lhi.The sanctuary is surrounded by a corridor lit by apertures in the roof and walls and entered through two doors from the Second Antechamber. Along this corridor are 11 small chambers, used as chapels for various deities, as store-rooms or for other religious purposes. The last of these chambers, with reliefs similar to those in the sanctuary, was a shrine dedicated to Hathor. From here a modern iron staircase leads up to a niche in the wall containing a relief of Hathor.
Temple of Hathor - Temple Roof
The temple roof is on several levels, the highest being over the pronaos. At the southwest corner of the first (lowest) terrace is a small open kiosk with 12 Hathor columns. Adjoining the terrace on the north, above the chambers to the left of the hypostyle hall, is a small Shrine of Osiris dedicated to the cult of the slain and resurrected Isis, as is shown by the numerous inscriptions and scenes on the walls. On the ceiling of the second chamber, which is separated from the first (an open court) by pillars, is a cast ofthe famous "Zodiac of Dendera", the only circular representation of the heavens found in Egypt; the original was carried off to France in 1820 and is now in the Louvre. In the last room is a window with representations of Osiris lying dead on his bier and returning to life. At the northwest corner of the terrace a flight of steps leads up to the roof of the first antechamber, beyond which is the still higher roof of the hypostyle hall. From this a modern iron staircase continues up to the roof of the pronaos, from which there are superb panoramic* views of the Nile Valley and the hills of the desert.
Temple of Hathor - Crypts
The subterranean chambers or crypts, which may have been used for storing cult vessels and divine images which were no longer required, are of interest both for their construction and for the fresh coloring of the paintings. There are altogether 12 such chambers, constructed at different levels in the thickness of the temple walls. The elaborate mural reliefs date from the reign of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, and are thus the oldest as well as the best executed in the whole temple. In the crypt reached through a square opening in the floor of Room 16 are a number of narrow chambers with representations on the walls of the objects which were kept in them. On the right hand wall of the second chamber on the right is a fine relief depicting King Phiops (Sixth Dynasty) kneeling and offering a statuette of the god Ihi to four images of Hathor. In the crypt reached from Room 17 Ptolemy XII is shown presenting jewelry and other offerings to the gods.
Temple of Hathor - Outside Walls
It is worth walking round the outside walls of the Temple of Hathor in Dendera to see the inscriptions and reliefs with which they are covered. Those on the east and west sides date from the reigns of various Roman Emperors, in particular Nero. The large reliefs on the rear (south) wall depict Ptolemy XV Caesar (Caesarion), son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra (Vil Philopator), before the gods of Dendera, with the image of Hathor in the center. The faces are purely conventional and in no sense portraits. The projecting lions' heads on the sides of the building were designed to carry off rainwater.
To the right (southwest) of the entrance to the temple precinct is the so-called birthhouse (mammisi), a small temple dedicated to the cult of the son of the two deities worshiped in the main temple, of a type found in all the larger temple complexes of the Ptolemaic period (e.g. Edfu and Philae). In this case the birthhouse, built in the reign of Augustus and decorated with further reliefs in the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, was dedicated to Harsomtus, son of Isis and Horus of Edfu. Along the two sides and the rear end runs a colonnade of flower columns, on the abaci of which are figures of Bes, the patron god of women in labor.A ramp leads up to a spacious forecourt, with the ground plan of a Late Roman building with three apses inscribed on the ground. From this we enter a vestibule, in the right hand wall of which is the lower part of a staircase leading up to the roof; to the left are two doors, one leading into the colonnade, the other into a small side chamber. The central door opens into a wide transverse chamber, beyond which is the long sanctuary, the birth chamber proper, with reliefs depicting the birth and nursing of the divine infant; in the rear wall is a shallow door recess. To right and left are small side chambers.
Immediately south of the birthhouse we come to a large Coptic church of the late fifth C., an excellent example of the layout of an early Egyptian church. The entrance, at the northwest corner, leads into a vestibule (with a round headed recess) and beyond this into the narthex, which occupies the whole breadth of the church and has semicircular recesses at the north and south ends. To the west are a number of small chambers and a staircase. From the narthex three doorways lead into the nave, in the walls of which are rectangular recesses. At the far end is the trilobate sanctuary, with small rooms on either side.
To the south of the Coptic church is an older birthhouse, begun by Nectanebo I and completed in the Ptolemaic period. When the Temple of Hathor was built the wall of its forecourt (which was left unfinished) cut across the end of this birthhouse and it was then abandoned and replaced by the later one to the north. From its east end a colonnade, with screens between the columns (here cut by the wall of the Temple of Hathor), leads through a Ptolemaic doorway into a transverse chamber with a door on the left leading out of the birthhouse and three other doors in the rear wall. The middle door is the entrance to the sanctuary, with mural reliefs dating from the reign of Nectanebo and depicting the birth of the divine infant Ihi. The side doors lead into two rooms without decoration; from the left hand one a staircase leads up to the roof. The brick buildings to the west and south of this birthhouse date from the Roman period and were probably baths and well houses.
Temple of Isis
On a high terrace at the south end of the Temple of Hathor is the Temple of Isis or "Birth House of Isis", built in the reign of Augustus, using fragments of masonry from an earlier temple of the Ptolemaic period. It has the curious feature that while the main temple is oriented to the east its western half (destroyed), in which was the representation of the birth of Isis, is oriented to the north; the entrance is on the north side. To the east of the Temple of Isis was another temple of some size, only the foundations of which are preserved, consisting of a forecourt, a hall with four columns and various subsidiary chambers.
At the southwest corner of the Temple of Hathor is the Sacred Lake, a deep basin enclosed by walls of dressed stone, with flights of steps leading down into it at the four corners. Doorways on the north and south sides give access to staircases within the masonry of the walls leading down to water at a lower level.
Near this Sanctuary of Hathor were found remains of another temple complex, perhaps dedicated to Horus of Edfu, together with several tombs and mastabas (some of them of considerable size) belonging to high officials of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period.
Chapel of King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II
A small chapel of King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (11th Dynasty) which formerly stood to the west of the Temple of Hathor, within the temple precinct, is now reconstructed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.