Temple of Dendera Egypt

Pondering the Ceiling at Dendera Temple

Yesterday, I visited Dendera – the Temple of Hathor, about a one-hour drive from Luxor. Dendera lies along the Nile River near the small Egyptian town of Dendera. The temple was “inhabited in prehistory as an oasis on the west bank of the Nile, south of the historical city of Qena”. The complex was less crowded than those toured in Luxor, and there was a pleasant cool breeze from the Nile.

Aerial View Dendera Temple – Viator

It’s a beautiful, 2,000-year-old temple with colorful detailed hieroglyphic carvings throughout, towering sandstone columns, dark chambers, twisting stairways, and an underground crypt! The gorgeous ceiling represents the heavens, “featuring the waxing and waning of the moon as it travels across the sky“.

A Tourist’s Life in Egypt

Every day, I learn more about how things are done in Egypt. This time, I went on tour with a new guide, another Mohamed, and an excellent driver, Hannie. Apparently, some guides falsely represent themselves as certified Egyptologists. I also learned that information provided by one guide can be contradicted by another, so at this point, I’m not sure about anything. When possible, I try to do my own research before and / or after a tour. The info provided during a tour is almost always more than my brain can process.

Astronomical Ceiling Hypostyle Hall Karnak Temple Complex

An aside for travelers in Egypt is it might be unwise to mention that you’re interested in purchasing something, even as small as a scarf – you’ll regret it. The walls have eyes and ears. Brutal Egyptian negotiating is exhausting and not for me. Unless, of course, your guide gets involved in the process, which might complicate matters even more. sigh

Entrance of Dendera Temple
Religious Sanctuary

Dendera was a sanctuary located in a city originally named Tentyris. One of the “most important religious centers in ancient Egypt,” it was a place for rejuvenation and regaining mental and physical health. The complex has three sanctuaries:

  • Horus – god of the sky, protector of pharaohs, son of Osiris and Isis
  • Ihy – Horus’ son and god of childhood and music
  • Hathor – sky goddess of women and female counterpart of Horus

One of the “best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt,” Dendera Temples include:

Ihy Son of Horus – Iseum Sanctuary


Colors throughout the Dendera temples are original and amazingly vibrant, considering the inside was once covered in soot from the fires of asylum seeking Bedouins and other desert peoples.” Atlas Obscura


Egyptian Goddess Hathor – ResearchGate

At one time, the Dendera complex was mostly covered in desert sand, and Bedouins used the temples for shelter and warmth. Soot from their fires accumulated at the top of the temple. After years of tedious work, the sand was removed and most of the accumulated soot eliminated.

Bes Egyptian God of War and Domestic Protection
Egyptian and Greco-Roman Rulers

Dendera complex displays influences from Alexander the Great and Egyptian, Greek, and Roman rulers. Structures in the area date back to 2500 BCE. At one time, there was a Coptic Christian Church near the birthing temple. Ptolemy XII – Macedonian general of Alexander the Great and King of Egypt – built the main temple. He co-ruled Egypt with his famous sister, Queen Cleopatra VII, who nearly completed the temple around 54 to 20 BCE”.

Dendera Lightbulb – Grunge


“The Dendera Lightbulb is a motif in Hathor Temple. It depicts the Egyptian creation myth. The temple contains several reliefs depicting Harsomtus – Greek word for the Egyptian name Horus – the one Who Unites the Two Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt. The image is the form of a snake, emerging from a lotus flower which is usually attached to the bow of a barge.”


Dendera Crypt – Egyptian Monuments
Underground Crypt

The underground crypt at Dendera contains the “most detailed depiction of Horus discovered to date”. You must crawl through portions of the crypt on your hands and knees. I did it, but thinking back about it now, the experience seems surreal. The entrance is down a steep staircase.

Dendera Wall Etching of Gods

All the rooms are intricately decorated, and the stunning Great Vestibule at the entrance contains twenty-four columns. It’s a tribute to Nut, Goddess of the Sky. As you continue through the antechambers, there are crypts, chapel rooms, and sanctuaries.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs Displaying the Eye of Horus and Gods

Depictions of Cleopatra VI on temple walls are good “examples of Ptolemaic Egyptian art“. On the rear of the temple exterior there’s a carving of Cleopatra VII Philopator and her son, Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar (Caesarion), who was fathered by Julius Caesar.

Cleopatra and Her Son Hathor
Dendera Stone Images
Staircase to Roof

The second antechamber has a corridor on each side. One is a spiral uphill climb leading to the temple rooftop – like a bird would ascend. The other corridor descends from the roof is a straight path down, “just as a bird would dive”.

Remains of Ruins from Excavation


“References to birds in the temples are a tribute to Horus, the Egyptian falcon god. His “right eye was the sun or morning star, representing power and quintessence, and his left eye was the moon or evening star, representing healing”.


Small Rooftop Temple Dendera
Stone Columns

On the rooftop, there’s a small ritual temple that was used to greet the rising sun and an antechamber, called the Chapel of Osiris. A room inside the chapel, has a unique ceiling relief, called the Dendera Zodiac. The purpose of the Dendera Zodiac was to “provide the basis for Astrology, because the Dendera Zodiac conveys spiritual concepts based on astronomical data”. It’s considered the “only complete map of the ancient Egyptian sky”. The one at Hathor Temple is a replica. Somehow, the “real” Dendera Zodiac ended up on display at the Louvre in Paris?

Dendera Zodiac


“The Dendera zodiac is one of the best-preserved ancient depictions of the observable stars. Although it contains many of the Zodiac symbols as they are known today, it’s more accurately described as a star map than an astrological chart.”


Ceiling Painting of Nut Egyptian Sky Goddess

Reliefs in the birthing temple depict the births of gods and Egyptian pharaohs. The Temple of the Goddess Isis, mother of Horus, is situated behind the main temple.

Egyptian Goddess Isis – Egyptwd


“Every pharaoh of Egypt is said to be an incarnation of Horus, who conquered the evil god Seth in Upper Egypt. Seth is said to be the god of confusion and turmoil who killed Osiris, father of Horus.”


Rooftop Dendera

Touring Dendera was magic – it’s an amazing place. I emerged befuddled as ever, trying to piece together the historical significance and many fascinating details. I have another tour tomorrow – Luxor’s East Bank Karnak and Luxor Temples.

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