One of the gazillion things I love bout my hometown is its museums. There are many, but there is one in particular I can only let but so much time go by without visiting, and that is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. And even then, regardless of what else new may be there, I must always visit one exhibit. The Temple of Dendur, a real Egyptian temple, is completely open to the public. I remember the first time stepped into the wing and laid eyes upon it I was enthralled. I remember wishing the entire wing were a part of my back yard. Even now, in the nearly two decades since, I still love to visit the temple, walk through its limestone doors and hallways, imaging the temple as it was used way, way, way back when.
The Temple of Dendur dates to 15 BC, in the Roman period. Over the temple gate and over the entrance to the temple itself, the winged sun disk of the sky god Horus is depicted. The temple is partly decorated with reliefs: the temple base is decorated with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants growing out of the water of the Nile. The middle room, used for offerings, and the sanctuary of Isis at the rear of the temple are surprisingly undecorated except for the reliefs on the door frame and rear wall of the sanctuary which show Pihor and Pedesi, as young gods worshiping Isis and Osiris respectively.
Each time I walk through it I am amazed at how something so massive was dismantled, shipped overseas from Alexandria, Egypt and rebuilt in the magnificent wide open Sacker Wing at The Met. That it only took a decade to do so is a feat within itself. The temple was dismantled and removed from its original location in 1963 in order to save the site from being submerged by Lake Nasser, following construction of a dam. It was a gift to America for the nations assistance in saving Dendur and a few other sites that were also in danger with the dam’s construction.
What a lot of people don’t know, or forget, is that the Temple of Dendur is not a tomb. No pharaoh or queen is honored here. It is a temple that honors the various gods and myth of the ancient Egypt. The temple was built to honor Isis, but Horus, Osiris, Thoth, Hapy, and Sekhment are also represented in its walls. And because kings, respect kinds, there is even a rendering of Augustus Cesar, dressed in the Egyptian robes of a pharaoh for kings respect kings, making offerings to Egyptian gods.
Another tidbit unbeknownst to most: Most of the walls of the ancient temples were originally painted in vibrant colors. It’s the erosion of time in the desert sun and the occasion flooding of the Nile, that leaves us with the beauty of the bas relief in sandstone. There are is very little documentation on this, but few examples found and from looking at other temples in the area, indicate there was color on the temple walls. Last year the Met had the Color the Temple project. A light installation using digital technology which projected the colors of the painted detail to the temple without altering the surface itself. The artists chose the scene of August Ceasar giving offerings as it was the most intact scene and in an ideal location in which to project. Alas, that was early last year and is now gone, but I am sure you can find pictures and articles of it somewhere in Googleland.
And with all things beautiful, to quote a certain Country and Pop star people throw rocks at things that shine. You can actually find graffiti carved into the walls of the temple. One dates as far back to the BC times, a few scant years after the temple was built through to another carved in the late 1800s. Leonardo 1820 is the one easily remembered, but my favorite – to my delight and yes, I presume it’s a male, his shame is one carved by a “L. BRAD—” the rest of the name is unreadable, “1821 OF NY US”. Here, nearly 200 years later, in New York City sits the tag of a fellow resident of my state, hey, for all I know, he may even be a fellow resident of the City itself. Now wouldn’t that be ironic and delicious?
The Sacker Wing which houses the temple was designed in a way to mimic the temple’s location in Egypt. The reflecting pool in front of the temple represents the Nile river and the wall behind it represents the cliffs of the original location. The frosted glass ceiling of the wing and the massive glass wall facing Central Park is stippled to diffuse the light coming in and resemble the lighting in Egypt. The view in spring and summer, when the trees are in bloom are beautiful. I myself am most enamored with the view in autumn, where the colors of fall complement the warm limestone walls of the temple. Even now in the midst of the stark contrast of gray winter days is its own beauty. So yes, the views of the temple and its outside environs are stunning regardless of season. I have whiled away many, many hours sitting, reading, contemplating life and simply enjoying the natural light that pours through the windows. Even in inclement weather it is beautiful to pass the time watching a rain storm through those windows.
The Temple of Dendur is also considered one of the most romantic places in NYC. Many proposals have happened in these hallowed halls as well as wedding receptions as the Temple of Dendur can be rented for events by museum members, with the monies for such of course. I must admit when the room is closed for a private event and I cannot have my time there, I am perturbed for days. It is a gorgeous atmosphere that is historically fascinating surrounded by natural beauty outside and over a couple of millennium of art in the inside. Is there really any wonder I continually return?
Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 challenge – Week 5
A year-long weekly personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction writing challenge. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out Vanessa Martir’s website and learn about it.