For 2,000 years the Temple of Dendur sat on the banks of the River Nile. In 1965, the government of Egypt gifted the Temple ruins to the United States and in 1978 it was rebuilt in the Sackler Wing of New York City’s grand Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s an awesome experience to explore this extraordinary monument. Whenever I bring kids to the Met it’s difficult to tear them away.
The museum upped the awesome quotient with a fantastic project called “Color the Temple”. The videos below describe how they used image mapping to reveal the original decoration on the Temple. You can learn more about the project on the Met’s blog. Here’s a brief description of the Temple of Dendur from the Met:
Lining the temple base are carvings of papyrus and lotus plants that seem to grow from water, symbolized by figures of the Nile god Hapy. The two columns on the porch rise toward the sky like tall bundles of papyrus stalks with lotus blossoms bound with them. Above the gate and temple entrance are images of the sun disk flanked by the outspread wings of Horus, the sky god. The sky is also represented by the vultures, wings outspread, that appear on the ceiling of the entrance porch.
On the outer walls between earth and sky are carved scenes of the king making offerings to deities who hold scepters and the ankh, the symbol of life. The figures are carved in sunk relief. In the brilliant Egyptian sunlight, shadows cast along the figures’ edges would have emphasized their outlines. Isis, Osiris, their son Horus, and the other deities are identified by their crowns and the inscriptions beside their figures. These scenes are repeated in two horizontal registers. The king is identified by his regalia and by his names, which appear close to his head in elongated oval shapes called cartouches; many of the cartouches simply read “pharaoh.” This king was actually Caesar Augustus of Rome, who, as ruler of Egypt, had himself depicted in the traditional regalia of the pharaoh. Augustus had many temples erected in Egyptian style, honoring Egyptian deities. This small temple, built about 15 B.C., honored the goddess Isis and, beside her, Pedesi and Pihor, deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain.
In the first room of the temple, reliefs again show the “pharaoh” praying and offering to the gods, but the relief here is raised from the background so that the figures can be seen easily in the more indirect light. From this room one can look into the temple past the middle room used for offering ceremonies and into the sanctuary of the goddess Isis. The only carvings in these two rooms are around the door frame leading into the sanctuary and on the back wall of the sanctuary, where a relief depicts Pihor worshiping Isis, and below – partly destroyed – Pedesi worshiping Osiris.