The Temple of Dendur
The Temple of Dendur is an Ancient Egyptian temple, built in 10 BC by the Roman governor of Egypt. The Temple is dedicated to Isis and Osiris, as well as two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain. The Temple was gifted to the United States by Egypt in 1965. It was then awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967 and installed into the museum in 1978. The gift was in recognition of the United States government’s help in saving many Nubian monuments from being submerged in the flooding of Lake Nasser through the Aswan Dam project. Many monuments that were preserved were dismantled and moved to higher ground. The Temple of Dendur was disassembled and transported in over 660 crates to the U.S.
Several US museums bid for the temple in competition and the temple was awarded to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1967, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A new museum wing was specially built to house the Temple and the reflecting pool in front of the temple represent the Nile River and the sloping wall behind it reflect the cliffs of the original location.
Emperor Augustus of Rome initially commissioned the temple, and there are depictions of Emperor Caesar Augustus on the Temple Walls. There are scenes carved into the walls which depict Augustus as a “pharaoh,” wearing the traditional regalia of the pharaoh. At the time, Egypt was so crucial to Rome for grain supplies, that as the ruler of Egypt, Augustus had some temples built-in Egyptian style, honoring Egyptian deities.
Numerous graffiti marks that have been made on the temple walls over nearly two thousand years. The earliest graffiti is in colloquial Egyptian script and dates to 10 BCE, just five years after the temple’s construction. More recent graffiti dated to 1820, has been made by European visitors.
The Temple of Dendur is a cult temple that honors the various gods and the mythology of the Egyptian religion. The temple was briefly converted into a Christian church, and in 400 CE, Greek Coptic Christian inscriptions (graffiti) can be found.
While this Temple was not considered a significant temple in Egypt, the Temple of Dendur nevertheless encompasses, in a smaller footprint, the cosmos of many Egyptian temples. Its decorative themes and depictions of pharaoh show them praying and making offerings before the various Gods is representative of many significant temples in Egypt.
The pharaoh, Emperor Caesar Augustus, is identified by his name cartouche and depicted making offerings to Isis, Osiris, and Horus. Relief carvings show the pharaoh praying and presenting offerings to the gods. The original reliefs were painted red, blue, green, yellow and black, from archaic descriptions, but those colors were washed away.
Lining the temple base are carvings of papyrus and lotus plants growing from the waters of the Nile god. Both the gate and temple entrance include images of the sun disk flanked by the wings of Horus. The vultures also represent the sky, wings outspread, on the ceiling of the entrance porch.
The Temple of Dendur is one of the very few Egyptian temples outside Egypt and is a must-visit masterpiece at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- This Temple initially honored the Ancient Egyptian gods. Then it became a Christian church. What does the temple honor today?
- How did the Egyptian Temple design influence Greek Temples such as the Parthenon?
- The Temple initially honored the gods of the Ancient Egyptian religion; it was then for a brief period was converted into a Christian church. What or who does the temple praise today?
Explore Egyptian Art
- Nefertiti Bust
- Narmer Palette
- Tutankhamun’s Mask
- Merneptah Stele
- Standing Figure of Nefertiti
- A house altar showing Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their children
- Relief Portrait of Akhenaten
- The Rosetta Stone
- The Battlefield Palette 3100 BC
- Quartzite Head of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III
- Colossal Granite Statue of Amenhotep III
- Hunters Palette
- Tomb of Nebamun
- The Temple of Dendur
- The Sphinx of Hatshepsut
- William the Faience Hippopotamus
- Shawabti of King Senkamanisken
- Younger Memnon (Ramesses II)
- Pillar of Ramsesemperre, Royal Cupbearer and Fanbearer
- Relief of Hormin with a Weighing of the Heart
- Relief of Horemheb with Nubian Prisoners
The Temple of Dendur
- Title: The Temple of Dendur
- Date: 10 B.C.
- Period: Roman Period
- Reign: Reign of Augustus Caesar
- Medium: Aeolian sandstone
- Original Location: Nubia, Dendur, West bank of the Nile River, Egypt
- Temple: 6.40 × 6.40 × 12.50 m (21 × 21 × 41 ft.)
- Gate: 8.08 × 36.6 × 3.35 m (26 ft. 6 in. × 12 ft. × 11 ft.)
- Installed in MET: 1978
- Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET, New York, USA
Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art
MET European Paintings Collection
- “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon
- “Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco
- “Portrait of Juan de Pareja” by Diego Velázquez
- “Camille Monet on a Garden Bench” by Claude Monet
- “View of Toledo” by El Greco
- “The Musicians” by Caravaggio
- “The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- “Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers
- “The Grand Canal, Venice” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)” by Claude Monet
- “Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne
MET Modern and Contemporary Art Collection
- “Reclining Nude” by Amedeo Modigliani
- “Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II)” by Wassily Kandinsky
- “Jeanne Hébuterne” by Amedeo Modigliani
- “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne
- “Bathers” by Paul Cézanne
MET Greek and Roman Art Collection
MET Egyptian Art Collection
MET Asian Art Collection
- Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture
- Pillow with Landscape Scenes – Zhang Family Workshop
- Jar with Dragon
MET Ancient Near Eastern Art Collection
- Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper
- Head of a Beardless Royal Attendant – Eunuch
- Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)
MET American Wing Collection
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent
- “Mother and Child” by Mary Cassatt
- “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” by George Caleb Bingham
- “The Gulf Stream” by Winslow Homer
MET Islamic Art Collection
MET Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas Collection
- Benin Ivory Mask
- African Face Mask – Kpeliye’e
- Sican Funerary Mask – Peru
- Ceremonial Axe – Papua New Guinea
MET European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Collection
- “Hercules the Archer” by Antoine Bourdelle
- “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Auguste Rodin
- “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” by Antonio Canova
MET Medieval Art Collection
- “The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio
- Plaque with the Journey to Emmaus and Noli Me Tangere
- Doorway from the Church of San Nicolò, San Gemini
MET Drawings and Prints Collection
- Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg
- “Canvassing for Votes” by William Hogarth
- “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt
MET Costume Institute Collection
MET Arms and Armor Collection
MET Photograph Collection
MET Musical Instrument Collection
Explore the MET
“The body is the house of God.
That is why it is said – Man knows yourself.”
– Ancient Egyptian Proverb
Photo Credits: 1) By Jean-Christophe BENOIST (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons