Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Top 10 Secrets of The Temple of Dendur at NYC's Met Museum | Untapped Cities

Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its many secrets, houses a wonderful collection of works that date back to ancient times through the Renaissance. Most notably though, the museum is home to a bona fide Egyptian temple!

The Temple of Dendur, as it's called, is completely open to the public, which means visitors can walk through its doors and hallways, experiencing the temple as it was originally used. Here are 10 of our favorite fun facts about the structure:

1. It Took 10 Years to Move the Temple of Dendur to New York City

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1885 photo of the temple in its original location. Image via

In 1965, the Egyptian government gifted the Temple of Dendur to the United States government which helped save many Nubian monuments from drowning in the floods of Lake Nasser through the Aswan Dam project.

Many monuments that were saved were simply dismantled and moved to higher ground, but Dendur was disassembled and moved across the ocean in 661 crates on the S.S. Concordia Star. It took nearly 10 years for the complete temple to make it to New York City.

2. Museums Participated in a Competition to House the Temple Called the "Dendur Derby"

1875 photograph of temple in original location. Image via

After the temple was gifted, next came the problem of which museum to house it in. Several institutions across the country were bidding for the temple in a competition that came to be known as the "Dendur Derby." Two museums that put their names in were located in Cairo, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee. But their Egyptian city names did not weigh heavily on the deciding committee and ultimately were not chosen.

There were also alternative plans to re-erect the temple on the banks of the Potomac outside of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. or by the Charles River by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Those plans were scraped for fear that the temple's sandstone would deteriorate from weather conditions. On April 27th, 1967, the temple was awarded to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

3. It Took Dr. Arthur Sackler 10 Seconds to Decide to Be a Donor for the Building of the Sackler Wing

Dr. Arthur M. Sackler. Image via Wikipedia

The Temple of Dendur is in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum. The man whom the wing is named after, research psychiatrist Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, was asked to be donor for the project to build the wing for the temple. It only took him 10 seconds to say yes. Apparently, upon being asked, he counted out loud to ten and said "I'll do it."

Thomas Hoving, the Metropolitan Museum director at the time had been looking for a donor for six years before asking Sackler in 1973. Upon cinching Sackler as a donor, the temple was able to finally make its way to the United States. It went from Alexandria, Egypt, to Brooklyn, then up to 5th Avenue to be installed in the new, wide open space of the Sackler Wing in 1978.

4. There are Depictions of Emperor Caesar Augustus of Rome on the Temple of Dendur's Walls

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Augustus presents offerings to the goddess Hathor and the god Horus on the south wall of the Temple of Dendur. Photo via Met Museum.

The temple, built around 15 BCE in the Roman Period during the reign of Augustus Caesar. There are two scenes on one of the walls which depict a "pharaoh" or king who is actually Augustus wearing the traditional regalia of the pharaoh.

At the time, as the ruler of Egypt, Augustus had many temples built in Egyptian style, honoring Egyptian deities. This particular temple honors the goddess Isis and Pedesi and Pihor, two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain.

5. The Temple of Dendur Was Not Originally Beige

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Reconstruction of Temple of Dendur's possible paint. Image via Met Museum.

In December 2015, The Met Museum Media Lab projected colors onto the Temple of Dendur to show visitors what the original temple would have looked like. Knowing that temples in Egypt and the Ancient World were often painted vividly, the Media Lab began research for this project looking at remnants on the temple itself using visible-induced luminescence (VIL) imaging, but due to 2000+ years of erosion, no clues were found.

Instead, the lab used a survey of the temple from 1906, surveys on other temples from the 19th and 20th centuries, and analysis of painted objects in the Met Museum to understand its color palette.

6. There is Historical Graffiti Scratched onto the Temple of Dendur's Walls

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Image via

There are three different graffiti marks that were made on the temple walls over a period of a few thousand years, reports a New York Times article. The first, a few words scrawled in colloquial Egyptian script, dates to 10 BCE, just 5 years after the temple's construction.

The in 400 CE, a few Greek Coptic Christian inscriptions were made while the temple was briefly converted into a Christian church. The final graffiti marks that made it onto the temple's walls came from 19th century travelers who felt like chiseling their names into the sandstone. So somewhere on Dendur's ancient walls you can find a permanently etched "Leonardo 1820" (among other inscriptions).

7. The Temple of Dendur's Position in the Museum simulates its Location in Egypt

Image via Met Museum

The Sackler Wing, designed by architects Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and associates, is set up in a way to mimic the temple's location in Egypt. The reflecting pool in front of the temple and the sloping wall behind it represent the Nile river and the cliffs of the original location.

Additionally, the glass on the ceiling and the and north wall of the wing is stippled to diffuse the light and resemble the lighting in Egypt.

8. The Temple of Dendur is Not a Tomb

Front view of main temple area. Image via Metropolitan Museum 

The Temple of Dendur is not a tomb, nor is it a tribute to a dead pharaoh in any way. It is a cult temple that honors the various gods and mythological aspects of the Egyptian religion. Earlier it is mentioned that this particular temple honors the goddess Isis, but she is not the only god depicted. Horus, Osiris, Thoth, Hapy, and Sekhment are a few others.

Important to the ancient Egyptians was also their image of the natural world. This is expressed through multiple carvings on the temple. For example, along the base, carvings of lotus plants and papyrus grow from the water, along with the two columns on the porch which represent stalks of papyrus bound by lotus blossoms.

9. The Temple of Dendur Was Not Fully Opened Until 1994

The Sackler Wing is available to rent for weddings and other events. Image via A White Carousel

Until 1994, museum goers could only look at Dendur from afar. Nobody was allowed to walk through its hallways until the Met opened it up fully in 1994. Originally, the architectural plan for the exhibit was to treat it sculpturally, as an object to view and admire on a pedestal like a statue, explained Dr. Dorothea Arnold, curator chief of the museum's department of Egyptian art.

Even when soirees were held, private partygoers couldn't come closer than 30 feet from the temple entrance. The reason were due to concerns about conserving the delicate sandstone. Eventually, a compromise was made allowing visitors to enter in smaller groups under the watchful eyes of museum guards.

10. Get a Secret Elevated View of the Temple of Dendur

You can enjoy a little-known, elevated view of the Temple of Dendur and the Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo-designed grand space from the Japanese Art Reading Room (Gallery 232) on the second floor of the Sackler Wing.

Interested in learning more about the Met? Check out Untapped Cities' The Top 10 Secrets of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more!

--   Sent from my Linux system.

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