Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Open-air museum at Dendera - Al Ahram Weekly

Open-air museum at Dendera

The Upper Egyptian Temple of Dendera has been developed into an open-air museum, reports Nevine El-Aref


Dendera Temple after development

Standing on the banks of the Nile in Upper Egypt is the grand Temple of Dendera, a fine example of the temples of the Graeco-Roman period. It is built mainly of sandstone and has survived relatively unscathed because it was buried in sand until the middle of the 19th century when it was excavated by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

The walls of the temple are adorned with the names of important Egyptian Pharaohs from the Old Kingdom through to the reigns of Shabaka in the 26th Dynasty when its boundary walls were rebuilt. Nectanebo, the last Egyptian Pharaoh, constructed a mammisi, or birth house, there, one of the earliest known of its type.  

In its present form the temple is largely Ptolemaic and Roman, its reconstruction having been begun under the later Ptolemies and completed some 185 years later under the Roman emperor Tiberius. In dedicating a temple to Hathor, goddess of joy, feminine love, and motherhood, the Ptolemies honoured one of Egypt's most popular deities. The temple was also known as a place of healing, which probably accounts for the fact that it underwent continued restoration.

The artefacts on display

In Greek and Roman times, many temples continued to have mammisi. The surviving birth house at Dendera was reconstructed by the Roman emperor Augustus near the ruins of the earlier one built by Nectanebo and is adorned with reliefs added by the emperor Trajan. They relate to the birth of the god Horus and his growth to manhood, overthrowing the enemies of his father Osiris and taking over the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The birth house of Augustus at Dendera was converted into a church in the fifth century CE, and a Christian basilica was built in the area between it and the original birth house of Nectanebo.

After the completion of restoration work at the temple, the Ministry of Antiquities in collaboration with a French archaeological mission started a project in the area around the complex with view to converting it into an open-air museum.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that nine large stone blocks had been installed to serve as mounts for the engraved blocks, stelae and statues uncovered in the area and left in situ since their initial discovery. The displays will also include artefacts from the area's store galleries.

blocks engraved with godess Hathor's face

The newly fabricated blocks have been placed in the open courtyard at the entrance of the temple, where a collection of statues of ancient Egyptian deities has been installed. Among these statues are those of the goddess Hathor, the god Bes, and the falcon god Nekhbet Waawet.

The Temple of Dendera lies about 60km north of Luxor near Qena at a spot where the Nile takes a loop to the west. According to an inscription in its crypt, its foundations date from the time of the "followers of Horus".

Records of this early period have been found at the site inscribed on rolls of leather. When the temple was rebuilt in the reign of the Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu, the high-ranking official Seneni was responsible for inaugurating the "Navigation of Hathor", the goddess' voyage to Edfu in the month of Epiphi.

The second great festival at Dendera took place on the ancient New Year's Day, when the image of Hathor, believed to have lost efficacy in the darkened sanctuary in the course of the year, would be taken to the top of the temple to be re-imbued with power from the rising sun.

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