What is the Temple of Dendur?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Temple of Dendur is an Egyptian temple which was transported in sections to the United States in 1965 as a gift from the government of Egypt to the United States. Today, the structure is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and visitors can explore both the inside and the outside of this temple, which is incredibly ornate, despite the fact that it is relatively small. This temple is believed to be the only extant Egyptian temple on display in the Western Hemisphere, making it a truly remarkable and priceless object.

Construction of the Aswan Dam in 1963 threatened many priceless Egyptian antiquities.
Construction of the Aswan Dam in 1963 threatened many priceless Egyptian antiquities.

Although the Temple of Dendur is generally described as “Egyptian,” it was actually built by the Romans, and it wasn't built in Egypt at all, but rather in Nubia, an area which is today located in Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. The temple was constructed by the Emperor Augustine in around 15 BCE, and numerous carvings of Augustine can be found both inside and outside the temple, with the images depicting the Emperor in the act of making offerings.

This structure consists of a large free-standing gate, an open courtyard, and a rectangular temple structure which includes an anteroom and an altar. From the gate to the rear of the temple, the Temple of Dendur is 82 feet (25 meters) long, and the blocks of the temple are heavily covered in carvings with Classical Egyptian motifs ranging from lotuses to the sun disc of Horus; at one time, these carvings were decorated in colorful paint, and they have been defaced by various visitors throughout the centuries who left graffiti behind, with the most recent graffiti dating to the 1800s.

This structure is dedicated to the goddess Isis, along with her husband Osiris and another Egyptian god, Harpocrates. Two of the sons of a prominent Nubian chieftain are also honored in the art of the temple.

In 1963, construction of the Aswan Dam threatened a number of priceless Egyptian antiquities. The government of the United States, along with several other governments, sent teams of archaeologists to survey and move antiquities so that they could be preserved; the Temple of Dendur was one such structure, and its gift to the United States was meant to be a rather over-sized thank you for helping to preserve Egyptian culture.

When the Temple of Dendur arrived in the United States, numerous museums competed for the honor of displaying it. When the Metropolitan Museum won the contract, it spent over a decade setting up a suitable display facility, which includes stippled glass walls which are meant to evoke the light of Nubia, and a reflective pool to represent the Nile. The temple went on display in 1978, and it has been a popular attraction ever since.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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