Egypt – Star Gazing In Dendera

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 Temple of Hathor proves this beyond a doubt. This 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 you’ll have to plan a trip to Paris. For it was pried out from inside the Chapel of Osiris in the Temple of Dendera 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 of the temple of Hathor, Dendera.
The hypostyle hall

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)

ABOUT THE DAY-TRIP TO ABYDOS & DENDERA

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

DENDERA FAST FACTS

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.
Relief of priests descending the procession staircase
Raised relief of the dwarf god Bes, the patron of childbirth, near the entrance to the Temple of Hathor.
Relief of priests ascending the procession staircase
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.
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.

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MORE INSPIRATION/TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP TO EGYPT

EGYPT TRAVEL GUIDE – ALL YOU NEED TO PLAN A PERFECT TRIP
EGYPT ITINERARY – AN EPIC TEN DAY JOURNEY
PYRAMIDS OF EGYPT – GIZA, SAQQARA & DAHSHUR
INTO THE HEART OF HISTORIC CAIRO
NUBiAN LANDSCAPES – THINGS TO DO IN ASWAN
THE TWIN TEMPLES OF ABU SIMBEL
KHUFU’S SHIP – THE SOLAR BOAT MUSEUM
ABYDOS AND THE RAISING OF THR DJED

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

59 thoughts on “Egypt – Star Gazing In Dendera

  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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?

  3. 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 🙂

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