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Living in Luxor - Excursions: Trips to Dendera and Abydos

Hathor Temple at Dendera

Dendera is located 62 km north of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile opposite the provincial town of Qena. Dendera is famous for its temple dedicated to Hathor which is one of the best preserved complexes in Egypt due to its late construction in Ptolemaic and completion in Roman times (2nd century BC). The building resembles the larger Temple of Horus at Edfu.

Temple of Hathor at Dendera: Façade Temple of Hathor at Dendera: Plan
Temple of Hathor at Dendera: Façade                                  Plan

One enters the temple complex through an imposant gateway which is part of the enclosure wall and crosses the courtyard past the remains of a Roman birth-house (mammisi) and a Coptic church.

The main temple which is 81 m in length, 35 m in width and 27.5 m in height has an impressive façade with 6 massive Hathor-headed columns. This leads straight into the large hypostyle hall (no. 1) containing 18 Hathor pillars. The ceiling of this hall has well-preserved astronomical figures.

Temple of Hathor: pillar of the large hypostyle hall Temple of Hathor: ceiling of the large hypostyle hall
Temple of Hathor: pillar and ceiling of the large hypostyle hall

A doorway leads to the small hypostyle hall (no. 2) known as the "hall of appearances". On each side of this hall are three storerooms (no. 3 to 8). Beyond the second hall is a "hall of offerings" (no. 9) where daily rituals were carried out and the "hall of the ennead" ("ennead" is the group of nine deities in Egyptian mythology, no. 10). A passageway around the sanctuary (no. 11) contains 11 chapels dedicated to various divinities and religious symbols. To the right of the sanctuary is a small open-air court with leads to the wabet (no. 23) known as the "pure place" which has a beautiful ceiling depicting a huge figure of the sky-goddess Nut.

Wabet, Hathor Temple at Dendera  Wabet, Hathor Temple at Dendera, ceiling depicting Nut
Wabet and its ceiling depicting Nut

Beneath the floors of the cult chambers there were 14 crypts which stored the treasures of the temple. One of them (with depicted "Dendera light") is at present accessible.

On each side of the "hall of offerings" there is access to the staircases leading to the roof. At the top is a kiosk with four Hathor columns on each side and two Osiris chapels. One is famous for its ceiling relief, the "Dendera Zodiac".

Lion (southern façade) Bes (courtyard) Hathor pillar (roof)  
Lion (southern façade)          Bes (courtyard)                  Hathor pillar (roof)

The exterior rear wall of the Hathor Temple has reliefs depicting the royal figures of Cleopatra VII with her son Caesarion. Opposite is an Iseum, a small temple dedicated to the goddess Isis dating from the time of the Roman emperor Augustus.

In the south-western corner of the temple precinct is an empty sacred lake. A flight of steps lead down to its terrace with palm trees. Next to the lake is a well with rock-cut steps leading down to give access to water for daily use in the temple.

Dendera Light

The "Dendera light" comprises stone reliefs in the Hathor Temple at Dendera depicting bulb-like objects. There is a fringe hypothesis according to which the reliefs depict Ancient Egyptian electrical technology, based on comparison to similar modern devices. The view of egyptologists is that the relief is a mythological depiction of a djed pillar and a lotus flower, spawning a snake within which is a symbol of Harsomtus (Greek name for the Egyptian god Horus). The hieroglyphs around the reliefs verify this point of view. Apart from this the temple doesn't date to Ancient Egypt but to Ptolemaic era.

"Dendera Light"
"Dendera Light"

Dendera Zodiac

During the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt, in 1798, the zodiac was found at the Hathor Temple at Dendera. It was part of the ceiling of one of the chapels where the resurrection of Osiris was commemorated, on the roof. In 1821, the weighing tons relief was removed to France. Since 1964, the zodiac is on display at the Musée du Louvre, Paris. A controversy about the age of the zodiac raised the tempers. The now-accepted date is 50 BC, since it shows the stars and planets in the positions they would have been seen at that date. The Louvre made a plaster copy for Egypt which now is shown at Dendera.

Dendera Zodiac at Louvre, Paris     Dendera Zodiac - Reconstruction
Dendera Zodiac at Louvre, Paris               Reconstruction

Temples at Abydos

Abydos (Abīdūs) lies 160 km to the north of Luxor west of the Nile. In the Middle Kingdom Abydos was considered the burial place of God Osiris. That's why it was an important place of pilgrimage often mentioned in tomb inscriptions. Today the site is dominated by the New Kingdom temples of Seti I and Rameses II.

Temple of Seti I at Abydos

The whole temple complex was surrounded with a metres thick enclosure wall. The Great Temple of Abydos was dedicated to Osiris and one of eight "Temples of a Million Years", a term used for mortuary temples from the Middle Kingdom on. It was built in Dynasty XIX by Seti I and completed by his son Rameses II. It is 157 m in length and 59 m in width. Some egyptologists believe that the unusual L-shaped plan was chosen because of the cenotaph of Osiris (Osireion) which lies behind the Temple of Seti I, others think that it was even Seti I who built the Osireion.

Temple of Seti I at Abydos
Temple of Seti I at Abydos

Isis and Seti I raise djed pillar    L-shaped Temple of Seti with Osireion    
Isis and Seti I raise djed pillar        L-shaped Temple of Seti with Osireion (i)

The Temple of Seti I is best-preserved and famous for its gorgeous reliefs. Two wide courtyards (c and e) lead to the central doorway of the main temple with 12 square columns. Behind it there is the first hypostyle hall (f) with 24 papyrus columns. Seven doorways lead into the second hypostyle hall (g) with 36 pillars which serves as a vestibule for the seven cult chapels (h) in the west wall dedicated to Seti I, Ptah, Re-Horakhty, Amun-Re, Osiris, Isis and Horus. Back in the second hypostyle hall there are two doorways in the south wall. The doorway on the left leads into a corridor called the "Abydos King List" in which Seti I and his young son Ramses II offer to a list of cartouches of 76 known kings beginning with the Pharao Menes of Dynasty I and ending with Seti I. Some of the rulers omitted include Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Semenkhare, Tutankhamun and Ay.

Khnum, Seti I and Amun in the Temple of Seti I Abydos King List
Khnum, Seti I and Amun at the Temple of Seti I                 Abydos King List


At the rear of the Temple of Seti I is an enigmatic structure at a subterranean level known as the Osireion which has been interpreted as a kind of cenotaph of the god Osiris. It is thought to have been connected with the worship of Osiris and constructed by Seti I, but many archaeologists speculate on its precise age. The central hall has 10 huge red granite pillars each 2.6 m in diameter, two of them with depictions of the "Flower of Life". The central part of the hall is an island with surrounding trenches of water. The increased height of the water-table means that most of the year the central part of the hall is flooded.

Osireion at Abydos
Osireion at Abydos

Temple of Rameses II at Abydos

About 300 m from Seti I’s temple at Abydos Rameses II built another smaller temple for himself. The temple’s greatest attraction are the brilliantly coloured painted reliefs which are possibly the finest in any monument built by Rameses II. The first pylon and court are now ruined. The pink granite portal leads straight into a second court surrounded by a colonnade of Osiris pillars. The outside of the temple was decorated with extensive scenes of the Battle of Kadesh which Ramses II fought with the Hittites in 1274 BC.

Temple of Ramses II at Abydos
Temple of Ramses II at Abydos

"Helicopter of Abydos"

Dendera has its "lightbulbs" - Abydos is famous for its mysterious hieroglyphs at the entrance of Temple of Seti I.

Some of the hieroglyphs carved over an arch on the site have been miss-interpreted in esoteric mysticist and ufological circles as depicting modern technology. Often described as a helicopter, a battle tank or submarine, and a fighterplane or even a U.F.O.. But this is partly based on widely distributed retouched images that removed key details from the carvings. When examining the original hieroglyphs the provocative images are commonly explained as being the result of erosion, and later adjustments, or re-writing over the original inscriptions that left parts of the older text visible creating the illusion of modern looking machines.

Mysteriöse Abbildungen im Tempel von Abydos  
Mysterious hieroglyphs at the Temple of Seti I.

"Flower of Life " at Abydos

The "Flower of Life" is the modern name given to a geometrical figure composed of multiple overlapping circles. It is considered to be a symbol of sacred geometry, said to contain ancient, religious value and can be found in the temples of cultures from all over the world. Possibly five "Flower of Life" patterns can be seen on one of the granite columns of Seti I’s temple and a further five on a column opposite of the Osireion. Recent research shows that these symbols can be no earlier than 535 B.C., based on photographic evidence of Greek text, seen alongside the "Flower of Life" circles and the position of the circles close to the top of columns, which are over 4 metres in height. This suggests the Osireion was half filled with sand prior to the circles being drawn and therefore likely to have been well after the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Flower of Life at a pillar of the Osireion at Abydos Flower of Life
Flower of Life: at a pillar of the Osireion at Abydos and stylised

Insiders' Tip

Both temples can be done in a day trip from Luxor. The majority of tourists starts for the Temples at Abydos in the very early morning. They visit the Temple at Dendera on their way back to Luxor which is then crowded in the early afternoon. When you act anti-cyclic and start your day trip in Dendera you will have more leisure for your sightseeing.

Our Service in Luxor

We organise a car, which takes you to the mentioned temples. Kindly let us know your wishes, we make you a favourable offer.

Geographical Position

Strecke von Luxor nach Dendera und Abydos
Route from Luxor to Dendera and Abydos, © Google

Travel Preparation

Abydos: Egypt's First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (New Aspects of Antiquity) Abydos: Egypt's First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (New Aspects of Antiquity) ~ David B. O'Connor
Thames & Hudson, 2009


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