Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dendera (December 21)

Not quite as early as Sunday we loaded back into the van and headed out of Luxor, past the city of Qena, to the temple of Dendera.

I loved seeing all the little villages along the canals. It was very rural—the houses all had farm animals in the front and little shelters made out of grass and mud.

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Dendera was amazing! We were so enamoured with with Medinat Habu last year and were telling our friends, the Lewises, about it. Kevan asked if we had made it out to Dendera, because if we thought Medinat Habu was neat we’d be blown away by Dendera.

And we were.

Dendera is a rather special temple to visit because it is virtually in tact. The roof still covers the entire temple so the inside is untouched by the elements. And the antiquities department had the brains to put netting up around the exterior of the temple so there are no pigeons inside, which was wonderful.

The temple is famous for the zodiac found inside (the original is now in the Louvre), which dates the temple to July 16, 54 BC and other parts to December 28, 47 BC, which lines up with about the 30th dynasty; it was started by Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos. Most entries in the guidebooks we have are rather frustrating for me because when they say such-and-such dynasty I have no clue what time period they are actually talking about, so it was interesting to me have both the actual year and the accompanying dynasty.

Even more interesting to us was that this temple was still dedicated to the cult worship of the goddess Hathor and that the foundation was lain only 54 years before the birth of Christ. That means that when the Holy Family fled to Egypt the Temple of Hathor in Dendera was, in all likelihood, still in use. This kind of surprised us.

The walls were still covered in hieroglyphics and ancient cult symbols. Somehow we figured that the religion of the ancient Egyptians had died out by the time of Christ, but it was still alive and well, as is evidenced by Dendera.

A Roman wall made of mud bricks surrounds the temple complex. The bricks disintegrate with every burst of wind, let alone the rougher handling of animals and humans. Give Dendara a thousand years more and it will be in the same state of disrepair the other temples in Egypt are now.

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We probably spent a good hour wandering around the birthing houses and other outer buildings before even getting to the temple itself. The birthing houses are quite intricate and hold special importance to the Temple of Hathor since Hathor was the goddess of fertility and birth. Andrew was reading to me from Wikipedia and it said that when the Nile River flooded every year the Hathor cult believed it was Hathor who made it do so. Using that same analogy, she was also responsible for breaking the bag of waters during childbirth so that mothers would know that birth was eminent. Of course, my water hasn’t ever broken until I’m already pushing and by that time I’m pretty much sure that birth is eminent, anyway, so Hathor kind of failed me there. Thanks a lot, Hathor.

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We were wandering around the Coptic basilica, minding our own business (and occasionally stepping into niches to pretend to be a statue of a saint) when…

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…when we were accosted by schoolchildren. They swarmed around Miriam and Rachel, repeating things like,

“What’s your name?”

“How old are you?”

“Where are you from?”

And “Welcome to Egypt!”

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It took a combination of school teachers, tourist police, and undercover cops to get the children back in line and away from us. We followed them into the temple, anyway, so I don’t know why they bothered to separate us.

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20091223 - 010The temple is currently being cleaned, and a good thing, too. They’re half-way done right now and it really shows. With the mold removed the colours are really quite stunning.

The hypostyle hall is very interesting and definitely devoted to Hathor. Every column is topped with a set of her faces and she borders every ceiling. Unfortunately almost every image of Hathor (and every other king or deity) was defaced when crusaders (either Christian or Muslim) took over the temple. Otherwise the inside of the temple is completely intact.

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Inside the temple there are several rooms with some amazing bas reliefs.

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There is also a little passageway underground that you can go into. We left the girls with Grandma (thanks, Karen!) and took a look down there. You had to crawl for a short while to get there.     

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There is a famous hieroglyph at Dendera of a “light bulb,” which some claim is evidence that aliens helped the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids and gave them all sorts of knowledge…or something like that. We found some down inside the passageway.

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Clearly, though, they are lotus flowers with snakes inside them—they have stems and everything. And that chunky rectangular-shaped thing is a common djed pillar, not an electrical socket.

So there.

We also got to go up onto the roof following a curving staircase, whose stairs were so worn down that they were almost a ramp.

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20091223 - 048The sacred lake was empty of water but full of palm trees. I was excited about this because I love palm trees and have always wanted to climb one. Unfortunately, I was wearing Miriam so although I got up on one of the palm trees I didn’t climb up very far.

There are little doors at the base of the wall that used to let the Nile feed into the lake. They are still full of water and smell quite rank.

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One of our last stops at Dendera was down by the back gate. We wanted to see the Roman wall up close. It’s interesting to see the blend of cultures—Roman, Greek, Egyptian; Pagan, Christian, Muslim. When I was learning about history in school these units always seemed so distinct from each other but really they merged and blended and pillaged and stole ideas all through history.

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I picked up a stray brick from the wall—it was quite heavy. And old. It crumbled a little in my grip and several grains of sand that had been stuck in that brick for over two thousand years blew off into the desert.

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Dendera is definitely our new favorite temple in Egypt.

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It was even worth the hour-long bus ride out there—it’s kind of out in the boonies, which is great since there aren’t many vendors there yet so when you leave you just leave without having to be bombarded by salesmen.

We were starving when we got back to the hotel, so after a nap we took off to find some tamiya sandwiches. Reid and Jacob were excited to be in “real Egypt” and away from the tourist facade of Luxor.

I don’t blame them. Luxor is overwhelming.

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We found a cute little falafel place quite close to our hotel, in spite of everyone’s “helpful” suggestions to take sider oads this way and that. We were walking so long without finding anywhere, there, that Andrew eventually stopped to ask directions. Right next door to the falafel place. Andrew was embarrassed. The sandwiches made up for it. They were good.

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On our way to and from the tamiya restaurant we had to pass what could probably be listed among the world’s most creepy fairgrounds.

There was this merry-go-round of sorts shaped like a pale, giant lady. The seats of the merry-go-round were the frills of her skirt.

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They also had playground with monkey swings that look like slabs of meat from the back. I was just impressed that they had a playground at all—those are so hard to come by in this country!

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I believe I spent the remainder of this day dealing with a misbehaving Rachel. It’s hard to give children the stability and normality they need when you’re living out of a suitcase in a hotel. We dealt with a lot of fits—I want different pyjamas (we only brought one pair), I want my teddy bear (we only brought baby doll), I just want to go home (we can’t yet), and so forth.

She wasn’t being cooperative so instead of going out to dinner with everyone else we hung out in the hotel room together and ate a picnic dinner of sandwiches on the balcony. She thought that was so exciting that she didn’t go to bed until around midnight…kids!

1 comment:

  1. Yep, Dendera was by far my favorite temple. Color? Check. Intact for millenia? Check. Not being bombarded by vendors? Double check. Glad you made it!