By Amun, it's full of stars
April 21, 2024 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Enclosed within its rugged mud brick walls the temple precincts at Dendera seem to be an island left untouched by time. Particularly in the early hours of the morning, when foxes roam around the ruins of the birth house or venture down the steep stairs leading to the Sacred Lake. Stepping into the actual temple is like entering an ancient time machine, especially if you look up to the recently cleaned astronomical ceiling. This is a vast cosmos filled with stars, hour-goddesses and zodiac signs, many of which are personified by weird creatures like snakes walking on long legs and birds with human arms and jackal heads. On the columns just below the ceiling you encounter the mysterious gaze of the patron deity of the temple: Hathor.
It might not have the iconic status of Giza or the Valley of the Kings, but the Dendera temple complex north of Luxor boasts some of the most superbly-preserved ancient Egyptian art known, ranging from early Roman times back to the Middle Kingdom period over 4,000 years ago. Most breathtaking is the ceiling of the temple's grand pronaos, which is richly decorated with intricate astrological iconography. But you don't have to travel to Egypt to see it -- thanks to photographer and programmer José María Barrera [site], you can now peruse an ultra-HD scan of the fully-restored masterpiece in a slick zoomable scroller. Overwhelmed? See the captions in this gallery for a deep-dive into the symbolism, or click inside for even more.

[special thanks to Edmond Dantès, whose thread clued me into the image viewer and gallery links that kicked off this post]

Paul Smit, the photojournalist responsible for the first link and pullquote above, has other galleries full of his stunning Egyptian photography:
Tombs of Luxor - Temples of Abydos - Egypt of the Nubians - Calendar photos
Barrera, meanwhile, has recently published a book featuring hundreds of pages of documentary photos of Dendera paired with extensive commentary on its symbology: Dendera, Temple of Time: The Celestial Wisdom of Ancient Egypt. He also maintains a YouTube playlist of his interviews discussing the book on various channels.

For a historical perspective, SenseAtlas offers a gallery of reproduced images of Dendera and related sites from La Description de l'Égypte: Antiquités, Volume IV, an entry in the ambitious (and paternalistic) 19th-century Description de l'Égypte project, which laid the foundation for modern Egyptology. (On that note, one wonder you won't find at Dendera -- the one-of-a-kind Dendera Zodiac -- currently sits in the Louvre, with the Hathor temple hosting a replica, though Egypt's Dr. Zahi Hawass is determined to get it back.)

Dendera on Google Maps, including plenty of 360-degree Street View bubbles. This blog post (part of a 6-part series) has helpful maps of the temple and grounds for reference.

10-minute video tour of the temple, from the initial approach to the rooftop Zodiac
posted by Rhaomi (10 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Never heard of this place...

posted by Windopaene at 10:14 AM on April 21

posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 10:14 AM on April 21

Given the span of time involved, and humans being humans (i.e. assholes,) I am constantly amazed so much of ancient Egypt is still exists to amaze us.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:08 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]

Excellent post! No notes. Thank you for putting this together.

Paul Smit's website with all his Features from around the world is beautiful and I really appreciate the fact that he captions everything in pleasant detail.

Berrera's scan of the ceiling at Dendara is a wonderfully clean piece of photogrammetry. Just looking at the physical arrangement, I'm guessing there were no fewer than 22 camera setups. And the only hint of software/visual distortion I can even vaguely see is some of the pillar tops and maybe the niches along the bottom of the scan where it looks like it could only be photographed from one angle (though maybe there was actually chickenwire over that part of the ceiling?).
posted by cult_url_bias at 12:04 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]

Wonderful view.
'Smiling Sphinx Statue Unearthed in Egypt
Researchers suspect the Roman-era limestone figure may depict the emperor Claudius'
posted by clavdivs at 3:03 PM on April 21

Argh, there are so many places I've yet to see. It would be so neat to travel south from the Mediterranean along the Nile, then keep going down through Aksum and Abuna Yem'ata Guh to Lalibela, then over to Gondar.

[cue Bladerunner scene]
posted by aramaic at 5:14 PM on April 21

I hope it will not be too silly to provide in this context a link to Why I Buried the City of Luxor.
posted by praemunire at 5:36 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]

I actually was there last month, and it's absolutely amazing. That's all, it's amazing.
posted by Zarkonnen at 12:12 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

The remarkable preservation of the art of Dendera has led to various folks to get confused by the elements they see, leading to pseudoscience concepts of like the ancient functional lightbulb "depicted" as the Dendera Light. Luckily, sassier researchers like Miniminuteman are here to debunk the nonsense.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:46 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

Mod note: [btw, this wonderful post has been added to the sidebar and Best Of blog!]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:56 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]

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