Temple of Hathor
05/13/2011 89 °F
We are leaving this morning at seven thirty for a day trip to Dendera and Abydos but first we need to have a hearty breakfast: fried eggs, tahini, leavened bread, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, coffee, fuul, falafel, and cheese. This is the first time I have seen eggs for breakfast on this trip so I think they might be there just for us.
There are six of us in the group plus the driver: Mohammed, our English-speaking Egyptian guide, and a German couple with their Egyptian guide who speaks German. I have borrowed a book from the Mara House “library” for this day trip: “Chasing Harry Winston” by Lauren Weisberger. It is a one hour drive to Dendera, then a two hour drive from Dendera to Abydos which means a three hour return drive to Mara House. This chick lit book will make the time go faster if it’s a good read.
Not five minutes drive outside of Luxor is farmland with mostly sugar cane and wheat grown these days. It's beautiful - donkey carts being driven everywhere and mud brick houses along the main roads and the canals. Here's a picture of the sugar cane train - small scale tracks that run along the canals past everyone's farms. They load their sugar cane stalks onto the cars and then the train cars are moved on the tracks to the Nile where they are transported by barge to the market and the sugar cane processing plant.
Our first stop is Dendera, a large well-preserved Graeco-Roman temple dedicated to Hathor. The current temple was begun in the first century B.C. under the last of the Ptolemies and completed under Augustus (30 B.C. – 14 A.D.). Dendera was the chief seat of worship of Hathor and in Ptolemic times (probably earlier) there would be reciprocal festivals and pilgrimages every year between this Temple of Hathor and the Temple of Horus further south in Edfu (see my 5/XX/2011 entry in this blog for our visit to the Temple of Horus).
One of the really cool aspects of this temple is the secret texts (previously only known by the priests of the temple) were enshrined as reliefs on the exterior and interior walls. Priests would still be needed to interpret the texts for ceremonies but the formerly secret texts could now be public knowledge if one knew how to read them.
The ceilings in the Hypostyle Hall are currently being cleaned and they have left a portion of the ceiling (in the center of the hall) with the soot from centuries of fires to show the difference. There is still a lot of pigment on the ceilings and columns - very nice! But darn it! Hathor's face on each and every column has been chiseled off.
My favorites are the walls of the eastern staircase leading to the roof chapels: there are life-size figures of priests on both walls walking up and down the staircase to and from the roof chapels. The staircase runs the length of the temple with a very shallow rise.
Another cool feature of Dendera that you don’t find elsewhere are… crypts! Some of the crypts are beneath the temple and we get to crawl down into one that is open to visitors. The reliefs in this crypt are very nicely detailed and date back to Ptolemy XII (80-51 B.C.), some of the oldest reliefs found in the temple.
Visiting this temple was not at the top of my list for this trip but I’m glad we’ve taken the time to visit Dendera. It is a fascinating and beautiful temple!
We are now on our way to Abydos and Timothy pulls out a small snack: sandwich creme cookies. At first I think it's a Nabisco cookie - a little "hello" from home. But no! It's not Nabisco, but ARABISCO. Brilliant!