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A Site to Behold

Even though most of the monuments at this site were built during the Greek-Roman Period, the origins of the temple of Dendera can be dated at least to the time of Pepi I of the 6th Dynasty. Some reliefs in the temple still refer to cultic images showing Pepi I worshipping Hathor.

The central building at the temple-complex of Dendara is the temple of the goddess Hathor, the goddess of love, music, wine and procreation. A large part of its decoration was done during the reign of Cleopatra VII. A relief on the back of the temple's outside wall shows her, along with her son Caesareon, presenting offerings to Hathor.

The pronaos, or first columned hall located before the actual sanctuaries of the temple, consists of 9 columns on each side of the central axis. The columns are decorated with 4 heads of Hathor, each facing a cardinal point. The symbolism of this type of column is very powerful: it represents Hathor viewing the entire world. These columns were also made to resemble a sistrum - a musical instrument making a rattling sound not only dedicated to but also viewed as a symbol of Hathor. The shaft of the columns represents the handle of the sistrum, and Hathor's crown denotes where the elements that made the rattling sound were located.

A typical feature of all Egyptian temples, except solar temples, was that they get lower, narrower and darker the closer one get to the actual sanctuary. The second columned hall is lower than the pronaos. It has the same type of columns as the pronaos. In the background, some ritual reliefs can be distinguished.

One of the rooms next to the actual sanctuary was open to the sky. The chapel next to it is called "wabet", the "pure one". A typical part of an Egyptian temple, these two rooms played an essential part in the New Year's celebration, during which the cultic objects of the temple were ritually recharged with energy.



The decoration of the inside of the so-called new-year chapel is typical of the era: relatively small rectangular scenes that represent the king performing a ritual for a god. Opposite this chapel, an entrance leads to a labyrinth of staircases and store rooms and ultimately to the roof of the temple.

As was not unusual for temples of this era, the walls of the temples are hollow and contain crypts, store rooms and staircases, some of which lead all the way up to the roof of the temples. The hidden and most inaccessible parts of the temple were probably used as storage areas for sacred symbols and statues, although a more symbolic purpose may also have been intended.

The crypts are often long and narrow rooms in the walls of the temple, in its roof or underneath the ground. Most of them are decorated with ritual scenes. They show that the presence of a ritual scene in a room does not imply that such a ritual was performed at that place (how would one proceed in slaying a bull in such a narrow place?). Their presence made sure that the ritual would be performed on a magical level, even if there were no physical ritual activity in the temple.

Several other buildings also form part of the complex including a mamisi (birth-temple) and a sanatorium. Traces of a Coptic church have also been found here.

The Greek-Roman mamisi was built to replace a slightly older mamisi that became obsolete when the surrounding wall was built. The foundations of the original mamisi still remain, next to the Greek-Roman building.




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