Dendera Archaeological Site

Dendera Archaeological Site

Location: 5 km (3 mi) Southwest of Qena, Qena Governorate Map

Open: 6am- 4pm daily


Description of Dendera Archaeological Site

Dendera Archaeological Site is ancient Egyptian archeological site situated 5 km (3 mi) Southwest of Qena, Qena Governorate in Egypt. This enormous temple complex covers a total area of 40,000 square meters. The first religious structure was constructed here by pharaoh Pepi I in the middle of the 23rd century, however little remains from the time period. Some of the best preserved buildings on the site actually date back to the Greek and Roman times.
One of the most famous reliefs originally found here is a relief of a Dendera zodiac that contained images from astrology and pagan religions. A sketch of the beautiful depiction was made by the French archeologists during Napoleonic campaigns in Egypt in the late 18th century. Unfortunately the relief itself was removed in 1820 and moved to Louvre museum in France. Dandera zodiac date back to the first century BC when the land was ruled by the Greek dynasty of Ptolmeic family.



The history of the place began in the predynastic period. This is documented by an ancient cemetery not far from the walls around the Hathor Temple.

Dendera was the capital of the sixth district of Upper Egypt, the local goddess was Hathor. The plan of the main temple goes back to Cheops. Pepi I later restored her temple.

By the time excavations began, half of the temple was submerged in desert sand, which saved many of the frescoes from iconoclasm and vandalism. The upper rooms were used as stables and houses with open fireplaces, which is why the ceilings are still blackened with soot and the former painting cannot be reconstructed.



Behind the city, in the desert, there is an extensive cemetery. Various excavations here revealed large mastabas from the late Old Kingdom and the 1st Intermediate Period. Some of these graves were richly decorated with inscriptions and are a valuable source for this period. Other grave complexes date from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

Temple of Dendera
Enclosure walls
Originally there were three enclosing walls in the district of the goddess Hathor, of which only the one for the large Hathor temple is well preserved. It is just over 290 m long and 280 m wide, has a base width of between 10 and 12 m and reaches a height of 10 m.

Hathor Temple
Particularly famous is a temple dedicated to Hathor, which was built during the 6th Dynasty and was later rebuilt. It is oriented north-south and faces the Nile. It received its visible form, as a copy of the ancient sanctuary, under the last Ptolemies and the first Roman emperors. Construction work on the temple began under the Ptolemies and was only completed by the Romans.

The building, which took 200 years to complete, is well preserved and distinguished by the uniqueness of its architecture as well as the richness and clean execution of the images and hieroglyphs. Walls and columns are completely covered with fine sculptures. The wall sculptures inside depict the emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero making sacrifices in the ancient Egyptian style.

The path leads through the portal into an imposing hall that was begun under Augustus and completed under Nero. It is supported by 24 columns in four rows and is 27.5 m high and 43 m long inside. This is followed by three halls of different sizes and an adyton surrounded by eleven cells. The entire temple is 81 m long and 34 m wide. The excavation of the Hathor Temple began in 1875 by Johannes Dümichen.

Sanctuary of Isis and Mammisi
Next to the western corner of the large building there is a small sanctuary of Isis, completed under Nero, with a dromos 170 paces long leading to the pylons. 90 steps north of the sanctuary of Isis is the Mammisi (birth house), formerly incorrectly called Typhonium, dedicated to Hathor.

Other facilities
To the west of the temple lies the sacred lake, which is covered with palm trees. The underground tunnel to the Nile is still intact and the water level can be checked in one of the two tunnel entrances, which is why this device is also called a Nilometer.

Behind the great Temple of Hathor are the Temple of Isis and the Typhonia. The Temple of Isis is very small and stands behind the western corner of the Temple of Hathor. It was built and decorated under Augustus. The second, larger temple stands to the north of the Hathor Temple and was built under Trajan. Some depictions there date from the time of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.


Questionable “light bulbs” from Dendera

light bulbs from Dendera

In Egyptology, a group of motifs that can be seen in several places in the Temple of Hathor is interpreted as a representation of the “god on the flower”.

Some also refer to this group of motifs as the “bulbs of Dendera,” which gives rise to parascientific speculation on the question of whether the ancient Egyptians knew about electric light in the form of incandescent lamps.


Zodiacs of Dendera

During Napoleon's expedition, two famous zodiacs were found on the ceiling of the hall of the main temple in addition to the gigantic figure of the sky goddess Nut (hence also called the Celestial Hall), one of which was sawn out by a Frenchman in 1820 and has been in the Egyptian department of the Louvre since 1822 is exhibited in Paris. France later had a copy made for Egypt.

In this zodiac, Leo appears as the initial sign after the intersection of the ecliptic and the Earth's equator. However, the location of the solstice (solstitium) depends on the location of these average points, which must always be in the middle of both. On the Dendera zodiac he is recorded in Cancer. From this deviation from the current position of the sun, scientists believed they could deduce the age of this zodiac. There was only one difference depending on whether that solstice was viewed as the winter or summer solstice.

The dispute over this has given rise to a wide variety of claims, such as: B. Fourier describes the creation of the same between 2500 BC. and 2100 BC, Lalande around 1300 BC. or 1200 BC, Biot not before 716 BC and Visconti not before 328 BC sets. The discoveries of Jean-François Champollion put an end to this speculation.

According to the Louvre, it dates back to 51 BC. estimated as Ptolemy XII. (Theos Philopator Philadelphos Neos Dionysos) rebuilt it, as the crypts of the House of Commons show. Some of the depictions come from the reign of Queen Cleopatra, who is depicted on the outer back wall of the temple together with her son Caesarion in a 4 m high figure.

The temple's porch, which contains the second zodiac, was built between 32 and 37 AD by the residents of Tentyra under Emperor Tiberius. The wall sculptures of the rear temple were made in the reigns of Cleopatra and Augustus, those of Pronaos under Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.