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The Temple of Dendur

NYC - Metropolitan - Temple of Dendur

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, Osiris, as well as two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain.

The Temple was gifted to the United States by Egypt in 1965, and it was awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967 and installed in The Sackler Wing 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. The Sackler 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, honouring 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, have been made by European visitors.

The Temple of Dendur is a cult temple that honours 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 colours 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.

More insights on this and other museum highlights can be found in our book, "TREASURES of the MET". For a convenient guide to this Museum and for insights to help you appreciate the Museum's many fascinating exhibits explore our "TREASURES of the MET" book. This book covers The Met Fifth AvenueThe Met Breuer and The Met Cloisters.

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“The body is the house of God. That is why it is said – Man knows yourself.”
– Ancient Egyptian Proverb

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Photo Credits: 1) By Jean-Christophe BENOIST (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons