The Egyptian Temple of Dendur in the Met

The ONLY ancient Egyptian temple in the U.S.

2,000 Years Ago: The temple was built by the Roman emperor Augustus when Egypt was ruled by the Roman Empire.

1965: Egyptian Government gifted it to the U.S., took it apart in Egypt, packed it into 660 crates, transported to NYC by ship, and put back together again, block by block, inside the Met.

Installation view of the Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Why Do We Have It? In the 1960s, the Egyptian government began building a large dam on the Nile at Aswan. As a result, the rising waters would have flooded the Temple of Dendur and many other important sites.

View of the Temple of Dendur on the Nile. Photo by the Center of Documentation of Egyptian Antiquities, 1961–62

To save at least some of these monuments from disappearing, the United Nations started a project to move them safely out of the way. As part of this project, the temple was taken apart—block by block.

A Gift: Egypt gave the Temple of Dendur to the United States as a gift to say thank you for the help the United States gave to the project. It was decided that the temple would come to The Met 50 years ago. In the 1970s, The Sackler Wing was built specifically for the temple, which was put back together—block by block.

Architecture: The building is characterized by an entrance hall (pronaos) with columns separated by screen walls (only one is preserved), followed by two broad rooms.

Plan and section of the Temple of Dendur. Computer rendering by Sara Chen

Size: Approximately 43 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 16 feet high to the roof, it is constructed of local Nubian sandstone blocks, a building material regularly employed in southern Egypt and Nubia throughout pharaonic history.

The temple honors the Egyptian goddess Isis and two sons of a local ruler.

Reliefs: As is common in Egyptian relief decoration, the outside of the temple was carved in sunk relief, which created deep shadows in the bright sunlight. Raised relief, when the background is carved away and the figures are raised, was used for the interior.

Egyptian Ritual: Similar to other Egyptian temples, Dendur was essentially a house in which a deity resided in perpetuity and received offerings such as food, drink, and clothing, items that were necessary for their continued existence.

Egyptian religion embraced many paradoxes, including the seemingly contradictory concept that omniscient beings such as divinities required the same sustenance as human beings.

A temple was not, therefore, primarily intended as a place where mortals attempted to gain divine favor through acts of worship.

Rather it was a dwelling in which rituals were enacted to nurture deities who would ensure the prosperity of the community.

As a consequence, ancient Egyptian temple architecture focused on accommodating the perceived requirements of the deity, rather than the needs of a large congregation of worshipers.

Perspective: A proper understanding of the Temple of Dendur’s architectural spaces therefore must progress not from the viewpoint of a visitor approaching the structure, but instead outwards from the deity’s residence in the innermost part of the building towards the terrace, where, in this case, a goddess emerged to meet her devotees.

View from the gateway of the Temple of Dendur, looking towards the Nile. Photo by the Center of Documentation of Egyptian Antiquities, no date

AWESOME Temple Guide for Students – CLICK

The Temple’s Architecture – CLICK

Stories In Stone – CLICK

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