a site important from the Predynastic period onward, owing to its location at the crossroad of the Eastern Desert and the Red Sea (32°40′N, 26°08′E). Dendera was the capital of the sixth nome of Upper Egypt and is famous for the magnificent temple of Hathor—the goddess's most important temple—surrounded by various sanctuaries and protected by a brick enclosure some 280 meters (930 feet) in length.

An archaeological survey of the enclosure was undertaken by William M. Flinders Petrie in 1897 and 1898. More systematic excavations were conducted from 1915 to 1918 by Clarence S. Fisher in the Predynastic sector and in the necropolis of the First Intermediate Period and the eleventh dynasty, as well as in the Ptolemaic and Roman tombs. The western section of the necropolis, with large mastabas of the sixth dynasty could not be explored (especially the mastaba of Idu). There are few sources from Dendera during the New Kingdom and the Late period; most of the objects found, approximately 450 pieces from the Old and the Middle Kingdoms, are housed in museum collections at Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cairo. A topographical survey of the enclosure and the necropolis was carried out by the Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire (IFAO). Inside the enclosure, the monuments include the following:

• temple of Hathor • Sacred lake, chapel of the barge, wells
• domain of Isis
mammisi of Nectanebo I • chapel of Montuhotep
• Roman mammisi • chapel of Thoth's oracle
• north gate and Roman fountains • sanatorium
• Coptic basilica

The initial epigraphic studies were begun in 1865, by J. Duemichen, Auguste Mariette, Heinrich Brugsch, Émile Chassinat, and François Daumas. Publication is in process by S. Cauville of the work on the pronaos, the exterior of the temple of Hathor, and the large gates. The work on the sacred foundation, centered on the heliacal rise of the star Sirius under Ramesses II and the “re-foundation” under Ptolemy Auletes (80–58 BCE), was published in 1992 by S. Cauville, as “Le temple d'Isis à Dendera,” in the Bulletin de la Société française d'Égyptologie. Astronomical research has shown that the famous “Zodiac of Dendera” was first conceived in 50 BCE; it also mentions the position of various planets, as well as the solar and lunar eclipses.

The crypts that form the foundation of the temple of Hathor are in the name of Ptolemy Auletes, and they were decorated from 54 to 51 BCE. The remainder of the naos, with anepigraphic cartouches, was decorated during the joint reigns of Cleopatra and her brothers; the names of the great queen and of her son appear only on the rear wall of the temple. The dedications engraved on the exterior of Hathor's temple describe the dimensions of each chamber. The plan of the temple of Hathor is similar to that of Edfu; it has a sanctuary, sacred chapels, and large liturgical halls next to cult rooms designed for the storage of fabrics, salves, and food supplies that were required for daily rituals or for various feasts. The originality of the architecture resides in the majesty of the crypts, cut into the thick walls on three levels. Those below ground held statues of deities, whose dimensions varied from 22.5 centimeters (about 9 inches) to 2.10 meters (about 6 feet).

The most ancient deities at Dendera are Hathor and Harsomtus, the ones to whom the most beautiful celebrations were dedicated. In the Ptolemaic period, the sacred pantheon was centered on Hathor and on Isis (who had his own domain located in the southern section of the enclosure). Horus was the father of Harsomtus, brought into the world by Hathor in the mammisi (birth house); Osiris was the father of Harsiesis (Eg., Hor-sa-iset), guarded by Isis. Hathor was presented in four readily identifiable forms, in name, in epithet, and in iconographic components. Those two triads (Hathor-Horus-Harsomtus and Isis-Osiris-Harsiesis) were the center of sacred circles chosen to express theological subtleties or to express the function of a particular temple hall. Hathor was the “efflux” of the eye of Re, who was transformed upon contact with sand into a beautiful woman, called “Gold of the Gods.” Dendera was created for Hathor as a substitute for Heliopolis, which was the ancient cult center for Re, her father. Re-Horakhty, together with Ptah of Memphis, enthroned Hathor as queen of the divine universe.


Dendera. Plan of the Hathor temple at Dendera, built by the Roman emperor Tiberus. (From Dieter Arnold, Temples of the Last Pharaohs, New York, 1999)

The chapels of Osiris, located on the roof of the temple to Hathor, were partially decorated from 50 BCE onward; they were inaugurated on 28 December 47 BCE, on the occasion of the extremely rare conjunction of the full moon at zenith and the festive twenty-sixth day of the month of Khoiak, when Hathor is resurrected. The six chapels are the most beautiful complex in all Egypt for her resurrection; each chapel is used in turn on the days between the twelfth and the twenty-sixth; the number 6 also symbolized the astral rebirth of the deity in the form of the moon. Throughout the year, the most secret of the chapels was considered the sacred tomb of Osiris, where a barley statuette made during the Khoiak ceremonies was kept.

Each culture creates its own guarantee and permanence of divine life; in this way, the mammisis was placed at the center of the celebration of the divine birth to Hathor of the heir and the chapel of the bark was erected on the shore of the sacred lake, to serve as a theater during the annual boat procession, which celebrated the return of the goddess to Nubia.


  • Aubourg, É. “La date de conception du zodiaque du temple d'Hathor à Dendera.” Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie Orientale 95 (1995), 1–10.
  • Cauville, Sylvie. Dendera: Les guides archéologiques de l'IFAO. Cairo, 1990.
  • Cauville, Sylvie. Dendera: Les chapelles osiriennes. Bibliothèque d'étude, 117–119. Cairo, 1997.
  • Cauville, Sylvie. Le zodiaque d'Osiris. Louvain, 1997.
  • Cauville, Sylvie. Dendara I: Traduction. Louvain, 1998.
  • Cauville, Sylvie. Dendara II: Traduction. Louvain, 1999.
  • Daumas, François. Les Mammisis des temples égyptiens. Paris, 1958.
  • Daumas, François. Dendara et le Temple d'Hathor. Cairo, 1969.
  • Fischer, Henry G. Dendera in the Third Millennium B.C., Down to the Theban Domination of Thebes. Locust Valley, New York, 1968.
  • Quaegebeur, J. “Cléopâtre VII et le temple de Dendara.” Göttinger Miszellen 120 (1991), 49–72.
  • Slater, Ray A. The Archaeology of Dendereh in the First Intermediate Period. Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1974.
  • Waitkus, Wolfgang. Die Texte in den unteren Krypten des Hathortempels von Dendera. Wiesbaden, 1997.

Sylvie Cauville; Translated from French by Elizabeth Schwaiger