Astronomical Heritage Finder


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International Astronomical Union

Short Description (ICOMOS-IAU Case Study format):
The Temple of Hathor at Dandara, Egypt


Geographical position 
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The enclosure of the temple of Dandara is located in the province of Qena, Egypt, close to the city of Qena (capital of the province), in the west bank across the river from the city centre.


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Latitude 26° 9′ 55″ N, longitude 32° 39′ 23″ E. Elevation 75m above mean sea level.


General description 
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The Dandara complex is one of the best-preserved temple enclosures in Egypt. Its huge temenos wall contains two monumental gates enclosing the main temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor, the small temple of Isis, two mammisi and a ruined Coptic church.


Brief inventory 
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Two of the buildings at Dandara are important in relation to astronomy: the temple of Isis, orientated (presumably deliberately) upon the rising position of Sopdet (Sirius), one of the celestial manifestations of Isis, and the temple of Hathor. This fact that the latter is oriented astronomically is established by the various stretching-of-the-cord ceremonies and related texts engraved on its walls. The decorations also include various feast calendars, the famous circular Zodiac in the ceiling of a small chapel (a replica, the original now being in the Louvre Museum in Paris) and a second Zodiac on the ceiling of the hypostyle hall.

Fig. 1: Alignments at the temple of Hathor enclosure at Dandara relating to important stars and asterisms in ancient Egyptian
skies are reflected in the ‘stretching of the cord’ texts inscribed on the temple walls. Photograph © Juan Belmonte


Fig. 2: The astronomical ceiling of the hypostyle hall. Photograph © Juan Belmonte


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The temple at Dandara includes the remains of constructions by Old, Middle and New Kingdom pharaohs. For example, the temple of Isis shows evidence of early foundations with slightly different orientations. However, most of what is seen today is the work of the Ptolemaic rulers and the first Roman emperors. The circular Zodiac apparently dates to the reign of Ptolemy XII or perhaps to that of his daughter Cleopatra VII (c. 50 BC) while the astronomical decorations on the ceiling of the hypostyle hall were apparently created during the reign of Tiberius or even later.


Cultural and symbolic dimension 
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The Zodiacs represent an important astronomical feature of the temple of Dandara. Recent studies suggest that they were maps of the heavens showing stars, asterisms and constellations belonging to the different astronomical traditions existing in Ptolemaic Egypt. The monumental temple of Hathor is orientated to the rising of Meskhetyu (Ursa Major) in the north-east but its axis is also perpendicular to the course of Nile. This suggests that, as at Karnak, the location of Dandara was carefully selected to combine astronomical and topographic orientations reinforcing the cosmic symbolism of the whole landscape. In the Ptolemaic period there was a close connection between the temples of Dandara and Edfu, and a divine pilgrimage took place between the two sacred precincts.


Authenticity and integrity 
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The temple of Hathor is beautifully preserved, as are the buildings at Dandara in general. Nearly everything in the temple is original and in situ, with the major exception of the circular Zodiac, which was moved to France in the 19th century; in its place is a good-quality replica.


Documentation and archives 
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The vast majority of the temple inscriptions, and detailed maps of the different structures, are available in the publications of the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO). Despite the alarming quantity of highly speculative interpretations (many published on the internet), only a handful of serious works have dealt with the astronomical aspects of the temples.



Present use 
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The temple of Dandara is not on the major tourist routes, but there are daily excursions from Luxor which combine a visit to Abydos and Dandara.


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The SCA own and administer the site. The whole enclosure of Dandara is fenced off and protected. It is surrounded by a buffer zone in the form of a park but the urban expansion of Quena could reach the outskirts of the temple.


State of conservation 
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The temple of Dandara, along with the temple of Horus in Edfu, is the best preserved of all ancient Egyptian temples. The decorations on the walls, including the astronomical texts and calendars, are well preserved, and all survive in situ apart from the circular Zodiac (which is excellently preserved in Paris) and some of the divine images which were looted in the Christian and early Islamic periods. The celestial diagram on the ceiling of the hypostyle hall, including the second Zodiac, has been recently restored to recreate its original livid colours.


Context and environment 
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The Dandara complex is located close to the River Nile in its western flood plain. Little remains of the other temples or the village that would have surrounded the sacred enclosure in ancient times.


Archaeological / historical / heritage research 
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The Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) has been conducting excavations, restoration, and documentation work at Dandara for several decades. The astronomical context of Dandara is relatively well understood, unlike other similar Egyptian temples.


Main threats or potential threats 
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The temples on site are well protected and the structure of the buildings is robust; hence there are no immediate direct threats to the site. However, while the temple and surrounding park are currently located within agricultural fields, the expanding city of Qena and its network of roads and streets are slowly approaching the area of the temple. The local landscape may change dramatically in the next few years and this question will need specific attention.


Management, interpretation and outreach 
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There is little activity at the site apart from the restoration teams (when present) and the site seems to have had no special management plan up until now.


Entity Data

Thematic essay: Ancient Egypt

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