If temples had beauty pageants, then Dendera’s Temple of Hathor would surely win. Only an hour’s float downriver from Luxor, Dendera Temple shines like a polished gemstone on the Nile for all of Hathor’s devotees.
Regarded as the “Mistress of the Vagina,” Hathor exemplified ancient Egyptian femininity as the goddess of love, beauty, music, dancing, fertility, and pleasure…and its all on display at her temple.
From a distance, it’s an unassuming temple,
obscured by a surrounding wall of mudbrick rubble with a golden glow.
However, it stands wonderfully intact for a structure built 2000 years ago, albeit atop the remains of another sanctuary that predates its commission by 2250 years.
While Temples of Karnak and Luxor were built to worship Amun-Ra–the alpha-male of all New Kingdom deities, who brought sun, light, and daily creation to the world–their energy is very androcentric.
Whereas, the Temple of Dendera exudes a powerful yet feminine charm,
evidenced by the 18 four-sided capitals of Hathor–with her cow-eared likeness–supporting the Hypostyle Hall.
Unfortunately, all carvings of Hathor were deliberately defaced by Christian iconoclasts who sheltered within its walls.
Their open fires lined the chamber surfaces with centuries of soot–obscuring the bas-relief paintings–
until a delegation of French archaeologists recently restored the artwork to its original colors.
Hathor’s temple was most likely commissioned during the second rule of Ptolemy XII in 54 BC until his death in 51 BC, and overseen by his successor daughter, Queen Cleopatra VII and her son King Caesarion until her suicide in 30 BC. They are both enshrined on the temple’s outer rear wall.
Romans embellished the temple compound by constructing the Gate of Domitian and Trajan in lieu of a traditional Egyptian pylon,
but stayed true to the Greco-Egyptian design by invoking Nekhbet (vulture goddess and protector of Upper Egypt and its rulers) beneath the lintel.
and beyond the temple columns.
Emperor Trajan also completed a Roman Kiosk in the forecourt.
There’s a wealth of illustrations and hieroglyphic stories throughout Hathor’s temple…
However, the real beauty can be found in the artistic renderings of astrological symbols painted across the Hypostyle Hall, where Goddess Nut ordains the passage of time in a celestial barge.
The masterpiece of the temple is surely the circular zodiac chart of the ancient sky that’s located on the ceiling at the entrance to the Chapel of Osiris–
accessed via a processional staircase that leads to the temple’s rooftop.
Amid controversy, the original engraving was blasted from the ceiling in 1821, and stolen away to France, where it currently hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Alas, a replica hangs in the chapel.
Which begs the question: Was it guilt and reparations that brought the French back to Dendera to supervise the restoration?