Once one of the most significant religious and spiritual sites in all of ancient Egypt, Dendera is a marvelous place to visit. Here, located on the west Bank of the Nile, just south of Qena, you will find three sacred sanctuaries: the Sanctuary of Horus the Sanctuary of Ihy, and the Sanctuary of Hathor. Although all three hold quite big religious significance, but the Temple of Hathor is particularly important as it is the best preserved of the three temples. In fact, it is almost completely intact compared to the other two that lay in complete ruins today. 

Of course, one of the most famous reliefs that tourists flock to from all over the world is the Dendara Light Bulb. This iconic relief is worth a trip on its own. You will have to crawl on your hands and knees to get to the underground crypt at the Temple of Hathor located at the Dendera Temple Complex. The beautifully detailed temple that dates back more than 2000 years is a truly awe-inspiring experience that should not be overlooked if one is in Upper Egypt.

temple of hathor

Where is the Temple of Hathor Located?

The temple is the main attraction of the Dendera Temple complex that stretches for about 40,000 square meters. It is enclosed by a heavy-duty mudbrick wall that was meant to be a security measure at the time to protect the wealth of sacred sites within. Dendera was full of residents in the prehistoric age and was a critical source of water and fertility as it is an oasis straddling the western banks of the Nile.

It is about an hour and a half from Luxor if you head north by car. It can be accessed by Nile Cruise for the smoothest experience.

It is believed that pharaoh Pepi I constructed some structures on this site beforehand and there is some evidence to suggest that a temple once existed back in the Eighteenth Dynasty. The earliest building in the complex still standing today is the mammisi built by Nectanebo II, who is the last native Egyptian king to rule before the invasion of foreign ruling powers.

The Temple of Hathor stands today on this sacred ground, embellished with a bunch of reliefs that reflect the checkered histories of the Pharaonic and Greco-Roman ruling powers. There are a plethora of fascinating depictions and carvings that are unlike any others on any of the main temples of ancient Egypt.

History of the Temple of Hathor

The main attraction of the complex is the Temple of Hathor. The temple has evolved a lot over the years, dating as far back as the Middle Kingdom, with development work dating up until the time of the Roman rule of Egypt, with Emperor Trajan also leaving his mark on it. The currently standing building kicked off in the late Ptolemaic period during the reign of Ptolemy Auletes BCE. The temple’s hypostyle hall was built in the Roman period under the rule of Tiberius.

Although the Temple of Hathor at does not have the same high quality of Seti’s structure at Abydos, it does, however, feature a spectacular cosmological ceiling and an almost completely preserved rooftop sanctuary which offer a rare glimpse into the solar rituals of the ancient Egyptians. These kind of spiritual structures were present at other cult sites but they have not survived. 

The site also demonstrated how the Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt presented themselves among the Pharaohs and gods of Ancient Egypt. Part of how they did this was by copying previously built temples. 

temple of hathor

The Unique Architecture and Design of the Temple of Hathor

Lauded as one of the most well-preserved temples to come out of Ancient Egypt, the Temple of Hathor dazzles in extraordinary colors. All these vibrant and vivid colors are original and are very impressive given that once the place was covered in soot from people seeking refuge throughout the years. Beyond that, the Temple of Hathor was actually once halfway submerged in the sand of the desert, allowing layers of soot to collect at the top of the structure. To show how much dirt had to be cleaned, archaeologists restoring the temple decided to leave some strips covered in the original grime. It took years to clear the dirt.

The Temple of Hathor is aesthetically pleasing thanks to the fully intact nature of its mud-brick enclosure walls and its countryside location. From the rooftop, stunning vistas of idyllic rural farmland and rolling hills of desert unravel before your very eyes. The Roman Emperor Trajan was an avid builder, constructing a wealth of buildings and decorating them with splendid attention to detail. At this temple, he is depicted in a number of sacrificial scenes along with his counterpart Domitian on the propylon of the Temple of Hathor. 

The temple demonstrates the influences from the various Egyptian, Greek, and Roman kings that passed through. Although no longer standing, there was also once a Coptic church nearby.

temple of hathor

Who is Hathor?

Hathor is the Egyptian sky goddess of love, fertility and music amongst other things. She is also the main goddess that ruled birth and motherhood. She is often represented as the counterpart of Horus with her name translating to House of Horus in Ancient Egyptian. Inside the Temple of Hathor in its underground crypt, on the same wall as the Dendera light bulb is the most detailed illustration of Horus the world has ever seen. 

Exploring the Temple of Hathor

The temple is a spectacular marvel to discover. Each of the chambers is as adorned with great detail, not just the Great Vestibule with its 24 columns. The ceiling in the Great Vestibule is an ode to the ancient Egyptian Goddess of the Sky known as Nut. The temple also includes a number of antechambers that features crypts, chapels, and a sacred religious sanctuary. The corridor to climb to the top of the temple is shaped like a spiral, which represents the flight of a bird. This was intended to be an ode to Horus.