Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)

The Temple of Dendur was built by Petronius, the Roman governor of Egypt more than three millennia ago. The temple was dedicated to ancient deities Isis, Osiris, Pihor and Pediese. It was Emperor Augustus of Rome who commissioned this grand project. Ever since the year 1978, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has showcased this important historical monument. Due to the risk of submersion in its original site in Dendur (which is 80 kilometers from the Egyptian town of Aswan), the Egyptian government presented the temple to the United States in recognition of the latter’s track record of preserving similar sites. That is how this historical monument built by a Roman Emperor ended up in an American museum.

My visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Temple of Dendur has been a satisfactory and educative one. I was amazed by the sheer size and bulk of the structure. The stone blocks of the temple weighed close to 800 tons in total. The curators of the museum also ensured that the structure’s original settings were recreated as much as possible. That’s why the Sackler Wing which hosts the temple has a reflecting pool ahead of the temple and a sloping wall just behind it. This arrangement mimics the Nile and the cliffs that were part of the original setting. Likewise, the lighting arrangements were so designed as to reflect the daylight witnessed in Egyptian climatic conditions. The fact that the architects of the Sackler Wing have paid great attention to detail has impressed me no end.

The scale and sweep of the sandstone structure is quite grand. The temple measures 25 meters in length. There is a 30 meter wide cult terrace that originally overlooked the Nile River. The temple is flanked on either side by two walls. I found the reliefs and carvings that decorated the temple quite aesthetic. For example, the base of the temple is embellished with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants (as they would have naturally grown in the banks of river Nile). Carvings of Vultures are also to be seen on the ceiling of the front porch. Emperor Augustus is also depicted at several places. On the outer walls of the temple, he is shown to offer prayers to the deities. Elsewhere, the pharaoh is ascribed the title of Caesar or Autotrator. There are depictions of other motifs such as the deities Pihor and Pedesi worshipping Isis an Osiris correspondingly.

I not only found the aesthetics of the temple appealing but also its depictions steeped in ancient mythology. As I learnt more information about the deities depicted therein, my understanding of Roman culture widened. I was also able to appreciate the spiritual strivings of the Roman royalty, as they constantly engaged in reaching out to deities through material and other offerings. I was also surprised to see modern graffiti left un-erased on some walls of the temple. These were apparently made by 19th century European visitors to the temple and have now become an integral part of the temple. I found the graffiti undersigned A L Corry RN 1817 particularly attractive. The artist was identified to be late Rear Admiral Armar Lowry Corry of the British Navy. Overall, my visit to the Temple of Dendur has been an enriching, illuminating, educative and enjoyable one.

Works Cited:

Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, official website: <http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/100004628>, retrieved on 13th November, 2011

Arnold, Dieter (1999). Temples of the Last Pharaohs. Oxford University Press. pp. 244.