Egypt: Dendera Temple & The Zodiac Ceiling


The art and architecture of the ancient Egyptians is amazing enough. That they could also map the sky nearly as well as it is done in the 21st century is simply astounding. A bas relief – the Zodiac of Dendera – that was found in the Dendera Temple of Hathor proves this beyond a doubt.

The eight feet square sandstone ceiling panel from 50 BC is reputed to be the world’s first horoscope. It charts the movement of the stars and depicts the zodiac constellations quite like we do today. And it comes replete with theories of encoded messages and ‘end of world’ prophecies.

The original Dendera Zodiac displayed in the Musee Louvre, Paris
The original Dendera Zodiac – Musee Louvre, Paris

If you want to see it, however, you’ll have to plan a trip to Paris. For it was pried out from inside the Chapel of Osiris in the Dendera Temple of Hathor and transported to France in 1821. It now resides in the Louvre. In its place is a plaster cast covered in soot, it’s details indistinguishable.

The Temple of Hathor was originally built in 2250 BC but the present structure belongs to the Ptolemaic or Greco-Roman period. It is one of the best preserved temple complexes in the country. And thankfully, there is a lot more in the temple that could not possibly be carted away.

The 24 finely carved Hathor headed columns in the hypostyle hall and the wonderfully illustrated zodiac panels on the ceiling between them are the most spectacular you’ll see anywhere.

Hidden for years under the soot of ancient lamp black, the fantastic ceiling reliefs depict celestial charts with the signs of the zodiac in sequence and the daily journey of the sun through the body of (sky goddess) Nut. Astronomical precision and mythological imagery at its very best

The hypostyle hall with columns topped with Hathor face capitals.
The hypostyle hall
Entire wall covered with square relief panels depicting pharaohs making offerings to gods
Wall reliefs – Dendera

It is by her mouth that the majesty of this god – that is to say, Ra – enters within the Duat.
Look at the picture, the disc which is at her mouth. […]
After in the western horizon his majesty [Ra] sets, they [the stars] enter into her mouth in the place of her head in the west. […]
It is within her that they travel in the day, when they do not shine and are not seen.

~ Book of Nut

It never occurred to me to ask where he parks his barge or the dead souls travelling with him.

Part of the vivid turquoise ceiling panel illustrating a procession of deities adoring the 'Eye of Horus'!
Part of the vivid turquoise ceiling panel illustrating a procession of deities adoring the ‘Eye of Horus’! The right eye of Horus represents the Sun and indicates resurrection and protection.
Goddess Nut swallowing the sun. The 'delivery' of the sun at dawn in the form of a scarab between her legs is depicted in the lower half of the ceiling panel (not shown)
Goddess Nut swallowing the sun. The ‘delivery’ of the sun at dawn in the form of a scarab between her legs is depicted in the lower half of the ceiling panel (not shown)


Dendera, is 81 km from Luxor and the drive takes an hour and a half.

We clubbed it with Abydos as a long day-trip, starting at the Seti I Temple since it is farther away and then returning via Dendera. The 172 km drive from Luxor to Abydos takes about three hours. Abydos to Dendera (105 km) is about an hour and a half.

You’ll need nine to ten hours for the full day trip with about two hours in each temple complex. A half day trip to Denedera alone can be done in five hours.

GETTING TO DENDERA: The best way to get here is by booking a car and driver through a travel company. Cost for up to two persons in a private car with guide is approximately US$ 130 excluding entrance fees as of this writing. Joining a tour is a slightly cheaper option.

Relief of priests descending the procession staircase.
Relief of priests descending the procession staircase
Relief on opposite wall of priests  ascending the  procession staircase.
Relief of priests ascending the procession staircase


BEST TIME TO VISIT: Winter months between mid October to mid March.

HOURS: 08:00 – 17:00

ENTRANCE FEES (2019-20) : Adult: EGP 120/ Student: EGP 60

CAMERA FEE: EGP 300. Free with mobile phones.

WHERE TO EAT: You could carry packed lunch or get your driver to stop at a local restaurant on the way.

WHAT TO WEAR: Covering arms, shoulders and knees isn’t mandatory. My advice is to wear whatever you are comfortable in, but carry a light shirt or stole to throw over your shoulders when needed. I would avoid shorts everywhere. Khakis, loose cotton pants or skirts are ideal.

Sunk relief of Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion on the external south wall of Dendera. Ceasarion is represented as Pharaoh Ptolemy XV Caesar.
Sunk relief of Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion on the external south wall
Raised relief of the dwarf god Bes, the patron of childbirth, near the entrance to the Temple of Hathor.
The dwarf god Bes
The Dendera Light - Strange relief that resembles a light bulb is actually a djed pillar and a lotus flower spawning a snake. Symbolic of stability and fertility.
The Dendera Light – Strange relief that resembles a light bulb is actually a djed pillar and a lotus flower spawning a snake. Symbolic of stability and fertility. (Image credit: Olaf TauschCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Partly cleaned ceiling showing the winged (sun) disc flanked by snakes - a union of the symbols of upper Egypt (vulture) and lower Egypt (Cobra).
Partly cleaned ceiling showing the winged (sun) disc flanked by snakes – a union of the symbols of upper Egypt (vulture) and lower Egypt (Cobra). The soot has since been fully removed.
Ceremonial offerings being carried in a procession.



Close up of row of Egyptian deities in the turquoise ceiling of the temple of Hathor in Dendera.
Close up of Eye of Horus in the turquoise ceiling in the temple of Hathor in Dendera.



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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

61 thoughts on “Egypt: Dendera Temple & The Zodiac Ceiling

  1. Love the “Relief of priests on the (worn out) procession staircase” picture…
    And, yes, that good ol’ debate about whether artifcats from third world or war torn countries are better off outside of their borders in western museums/collections…it goes on and on! Very similar arguments back and forth while I was first studying for my thesis work (in Ancient Near Eastern religious texts- largely on stone) I’m not even sure where my opinions lie anymore πŸ™‚ I just know that I love coming upon post and pictures like this. Thank you for a good read πŸ™‚

    1. So glad you enjoyed this Anne! I can’t make up my mind about what is right either. Appreciate your taking the time to comment!

  2. Wow! Stunning as usual Madhu! I also feel the Egyptian artifacts should be where they came from in the first place. Gosh, it’s so beautiful! Thanks for sharing again hon. πŸ™‚

  3. So fabulous that you were able to visit these Egyptian wonders. The pictures are beautiful, and the azure blue against the earth tones are breathtaking. Interesting history as well!


    1. Thank you Elisa! We were fortunate that the place was still open without any restrictions. Think you need to go in a convoy now.

  4. It always amazes me how advanced ancient peoples’ (including the Egyptians’) knowledge of astronomy. Thousands of years later, with modern technology, we keep confirming how accurate their calculation was.

    1. Me too Bama! Apparently there is not one thing accidental or hap hazard in that ceiling panel! Missed seeing it on my last visit to the Louvre. Will be my priority on the next, for sure.

  5. Again, your photographs are wonderful. Thanks for presenting this information. The quality of Egyptian art and science continues to astound. Thanks again.

    1. I hope you do, Angeline! I firmly believe that if you want something badly enough, you will make it happen πŸ™‚ Thanks for the feedback!

  6. You are really making me want to go to Egypt! It is a shame that many of their artifacts no longer reside in the country. The arrogance of other nations is astounding.

    1. That is the intention of my blog TBM πŸ™‚ Yep it is sad that some of the best pieces are outside! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Wow, I was so excited to see this gallery of pics today. What a treat!! They are just fantastic, I think I would spend days there going over all the details but I’d find it really hard not to touch it!!! Thanks so much Madhu, this is a page I’ll bookmark and revisit. I LOVE the relief work, it is amazing and the symbolism and intricate carvings are beautiful and so brilliant considering there were no laser cutters or power tools. It is some of the most astounding and beautiful of all human creation I think. What a wondrous experience to see it in person. I understand the dilemma of the return of antiquities to Egypt, it is a sensitive and political topic but I am so grateful that I have been able to see a small number of travelling treasures.
    Haha – yes it would seem that Nut swallows the sun and gives birth to it again in the morning which means the barge travels through Nut (and the underworld) during the night. It’s really interesting to see how the myths evolved over time between the old and new kingdom and how people began to tell stories to make sense of their world. Thankfully the Egyptians documented their stories and their discoveries. These treasures probably contain more information and codes than we’ll ever know – what treasures they are indeed. Fantastic pics Madhu – thanks again.

    1. If I had to make a post of the best comments on my blog, yours would be right up there πŸ™‚ Thank YOU dear Louise for your very encouraging feedback!

  8. The ancient Egyptians certainly had no shortage of imagination – I don’t know how they came up with all those myths and symbols! It is just remarkable how the temple’s colours still sparkle after all those years of exposure. Thanks for sharing, Madhu!

    1. Think it is more symbolism than myth. Just like in India, every story and symbol has a definite meaning and purpose. When you delve into its symbolism it doesn’t seem so fanciful anymore! I much prefer these ancient myths to the rigid, fanatic tenets of our evolved religions! Hope that made some sense πŸ™‚ Thank YOU for reading James!

  9. Hi, I have nominated you for the Sunshine and the Genuine Blogger Awards. You can pick them up here:
    They are given in recognition of your wonderful blog and how I enjoy reading it. No hurry to respond, only the Sunshine Award has a rule.


  10. These photos are amazing; your obvious attention to detail in the history, the artifact itself, and the story behind the photo is what keeps me coming back. I spent a semester abroad in Europe and -to use the cliche- it changed me as a person…travel does that-as a whole. Now that I have experienced the foreign European side of travel, my sights are now set on the truly foreign and exotic- Thailand, Egypt… Thanks for inspiring me again with these photos!

  11. Like so many others, the intellegence of the Ancient Egyptians never ceases to amage me. I wonder how they were so knowledgeable about astology thousands of years ago.? And of course, I still wonder how they built all of those marvalous pryamids so perfectly, with no modern tools or machinery. Amazing! πŸ™‚

  12. It is quite humbling, isn’t it, to live in modern times and know that the ancients were able to know and achieve so much without the use of our sophisticated gadgetry. πŸ™‚ The ancient civilizations are always a source of wonder to me. Thank you for this post, Madhu. I really learn something from you everytime. πŸ™‚

  13. My position has always been that these stolen artifacts should be returned to the African and Asian naitions they originated from… sadly, they won’t. TY!

    1. Most Egyptian sites would make a perfect entry for ‘Journey’ seeing as how obsessed they were with their journey to the after life! Thanks for checking this out πŸ™‚

  14. Ithought I have seen all in Louvre… This 8 feet square, sandstone ceiling panel from 50 BC is astonishing, so are the columns and wall carvings. How did they do and know with what they had?

  15. So interesting g to see this Madhu. I love wandering through museums and learning tidbits such as this. Thank you for taking me to this one πŸ™‚

  16. This 2012 post of yours just came to my attention via one of your blog followers. Thank you again for the education and tour rides you take us on frequently. Your page is worth visiting.

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