April 12, 2017
Christina Marinelli, Program Associate, Academic and Professional Programs, Education
Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847–1928). The Temple of Dendur, Showing the Pylon, 1874. Watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper, 4 7/8 x 7 9/16 in. (12.4 x 19.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 2000 (2000.599)
Did you know that buildings can tell stories? Buildings can tell us a lot about the people who made them and about what was important to them. By looking closely at the Temple of Dendur, we can learn things about the way the temple was used in ancient Egypt, about moments in Egyptian history, and even about more recent visitors to the temple. Let's take a closer look!
The Temple and the Natural World
Look at the outside of the temple. What details can you find that remind you of things in nature?
The Temple of Dendur. Roman Period, reign of Augustus Caesar, completed by 10 B.C. From Egypt, Nubia, Dendur, West bank of the Nile River, 50 miles South of Aswan. Aeolian sandstone, Temple proper: H. 6.40 m (21 ft.); L. 12.50 m (41 ft.); Gate: H. 8.08 m (26.5 ft.); W. 3.66 m (12 ft.); D. 3.35 m (11 ft.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965, awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, and installed in The Sackler Wing in 1978 (68.154)
Egyptian temples often included designs inspired by nature. The base of the temple has images of papyrus and lily plants, which grow in the marshes along the Nile River. The two columns on the porch also rise toward the sky like tall plants. Above the gate and temple entrances are images of the sun disk with the wings of Horus, a sky god who often takes the shape of a bird known as a falcon. The sky is also represented inside the temple by vultures carved on the ceiling. Through these decorations, the temple reflects the world: sky above and earth below.
The sun disk with the wings of Horus, the sky god, located above the entrance to the temple.
The Temple and the Pharaoh
Look at the temple walls. How would you describe the figures that you see? What are they doing?
Augustus (on the right) offers jars of wine to the deities Harendotes (center) and Hathor (left).
The temple walls are covered with images of the pharaoh (king) of Egypt. The pharaoh is shown wearing different crowns and a short skirt called a kilt. These items were already used for thousands of years by the time that the Temple of Dendur was built, and many pharaohs were shown wearing them. But the pharaoh shown on the Temple of Dendur was actually not Egyptian at all—he was Roman! The Temple of Dendur was built just after the Romans conquered Egypt. The pharaoh who is shown on the walls of the temple is Augustus Caesar, emperor of Rome.
Augustus (on the right) offers wine to the deities Thoth (center) and Tefnut (left).
Augustus is shown worshipping different gods by offering them gifts like wine and milk. One of the pharaoh's most important responsibilities was to perform certain rituals for the gods every day in the temples. These rituals included bathing, clothing, and offering food to the statues of the gods. Performing these rituals was one of the ways that the pharaoh kept order (ma'at) in the world.
Even though the images on Egyptian temples show the pharaoh performing the rituals himself, in reality it was usually the local priests who did the ceremonies in the temple. After all, the pharaoh could not possibly be in every temple throughout Egypt every day! In the case of Augustus, it is possible he never even went to Dendur.
In this scene on the temple, Augustus is shown worshipping two brothers named Pihor and Pedesi. Pihor is on the right, wearing a headdress with a cobra called a uraeus [yoo-RAY-us]. Above his head is a sun disk. Pedesi wears both a uraeus and a tall crown with ostrich feathers on either side. They both hold an ankh, a symbol of life.
Some of the gods that Augustus is shown worshipping on the walls of the temple are traditional gods of Egypt and Nubia, such as Isis, the goddess to whom the temple was primarily dedicated. But in several scenes the pharaoh is also shown worshipping two figures that are not known as gods in other areas of Egypt. These two figures are Pihor and Pedesi, who may have been sons of a local Nubian ruler. The brothers were probably given the status of gods after they died. Exactly who they were and why they were deified (worshipped as gods) is not known and remains one of the temple's mysteries.
The Temple and the Modern World
Graffiti on the gate made by visitors to the temple when it was still located on the Nile River in Egypt
Look at the outside of the temple. Do you see the modern names carved over the ancient images? What date is carved next to the name Leonardo? He visited the Temple of Dendur almost 200 years ago, before airplanes were invented. Visitors were impressed and inspired by the beauty of the temple, and often wanted to leave their own mark on it. Many people carved their names onto the walls of the temple to say, "I was here!" Because we want to preserve the temple, we would never add graffiti to the walls today—in fact, we don't even touch it! Even so, the names of these visitors remind us of people who visited the temple when it was still in Egypt.
The gate and temple as seen from across the pool of water in The Sackler Wing
Today, the temple stands in gallery 131 in The Sackler Wing, which has glass windows overlooking Central Park. A pool of water in front of the temple hints at the Nile River, on whose banks it once stood. But how did the temple get from Egypt to The Met?
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. 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. 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.
Look around your own community. What buildings or monuments do you see? What stories do they tell? Make a picture of a building or monument and write a story about it. Then ask an adult to email your picture and story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Departments:Education, Digital, , Egyptian Art
Tags:The Temple of Dendur, Egypt, #MetKids
The Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing as it appears in a single, flattened 360° image. When viewed as part of a 360° video, the image appears in a spherical format. All photos courtesy of the author
Arriving at The Met in the morning, especially if it's raining, I often duck into the staff entrance at 84th Street to walk the rest of the way to my office inside. Besides staying dry, the other bonus is I get The Temple of Dendur to myself.
What's not to love? Beyond the architecture, any city-dweller would thrill at the grand silence and all that open, empty space. I'm also partial to the row of lion-headed sculptures of Sakhmet, the powerful defender of the sun god and the pharaoh. For more than 3,000 years they've observed the likes of me pass by, forever withholding their judgment.
I often think, "It's too bad more people don't get to see the Temple this way." Well, now they can.
The Digital Department recently produced a spherical 360° video, "The Temple of Dendur: From the Nile to NYC in 360°," in collaboration with the virtual reality (VR) production company Total Cinema 360 | Koncept VR. Thanks to their expertise, as well as the cooperation of staff from across the Museum, fans of The Met now have a new, dynamic way to explore the Museum using their iPhones, desktop computers, or—for all you early adopters out there—VR headsets.
So, how does it work, exactly? There are various rigs and cameras available, but in this case, picture six tiny cameras that fit into a lightweight rig about the size of a small melon. These cameras simultaneously capture video in all directions: up, down, left, right . . . you get the picture.
Left: Securing six Go-Pro cameras into the rig
In post-production, editors "stitch" those six videos together using nonlinear editing tools. Each "seam" must be digitally camouflaged. This process takes weeks to finesse, and we're grateful to our production team for their particularly careful work. The resulting video can now be played on platforms with 360° viewing capability.
To capture the many moods of this iconic space, we filmed at different times of day: completely empty at dawn and dusk, but also crowded with visitors during open hours. Time lapse presents them as so many transitory figures, rushing among the ancient stones. Back when the Temple was completed in 10 B.C., priests presented offerings and prayers to the gods; today we bring our 21st-century questions, interpretations, and selfie sticks.
What's so special about watching it? In a typical film or video, a director frames the shot and controls what you look at—whether it's a wide shot, a close-up, etc. In 360° video, the director controls the camera placement, but after that, the viewer holds the reins to explore. It's your movements that control the vantage point, which might change each time you watch.
Try looking sideways at Central Park, blinking awake through the windows. Or spin around to see the public streaming in when the Museum opens. You're immersed in the space, without the traditional boundaries of video or film.
So why not just visit in person? Please do! But this video offers a little something extra: off-hours access to the gallery and a unique perspective. For example, before shooting, we removed the Plexiglass case and wires that typically protect the Temple's interior. Now you can admire the walls of hieroglyphics up close and in peace, without someone jostling your elbows.
Left: Curator Catharine H. Roehrig and Senior Departmental Technician Seth Zimiles remove the Plexiglas protection to allow the cameras the clearest view of the antiquities. Right: Rigging one end of the cord along which the camera rig will travel over the reflecting pool.
You also get to walk on water—well, sort of. In one shot, the camera rig traverses the surface of the reflecting pool. It travels on a cord the production team stretched from the gallery's southeast entrance to an I-beam at the north windows facing Central Park. Another shot lets you explore the space from a bird's-eye view—a perspective that eludes most staff, let alone visitors. The secret is the thin, blue cord hanging from the small window in the upper left window.
Rigging one of the moving camera shots from the upper left window.
The camera rig traveled on a cord from that window, all the way to the western doors on the ground floor. The resulting video gives the impression you're floating through space.
Not your everyday view (or anyone's for that matter).
One of my favorite elements is the soundscape composed by Simon Fisher Turner. He layers disparate elements to evoke the Temple's original setting and context. You might catch bird calls, lapping waves, plus other sounds created in the studio such as hushed bells and whispers.
As any visitor knows—whether virtual or in person—The Temple of Dendur has a timeless majesty that still commands respect after centuries. We look forward to hearing what you discover there in 360°.
Over the course of 2016, The Met 360° Project will present a series of spherical 360° videos featuring iconic Met spaces at its three locations. Learn more.
To watch The Met's 360° videos, please visit The Met's Facebook page. To view on an iPhone, please download the Facebook app. To view on a computer, use Chrome or Firefox as your browser.
"The Temple of Dendur: From the Nile to NYC in 360°"
Departments:Digital, Egyptian Art
Tags:Creative Production, Egypt, Facebook 360°, interactive media, museum experience, The Temple of Dendur