An overlooked temple in Qena could offer the city better prospects

Outside the Upper Egyptian city of Qena – only 60km north of Luxor – lies Dendara, a unique temple from the Greco-Roman period. Despite its historic value, limited efforts to develop the area have put it at a disadvantage. Receiving only a few hundred visitors per week, the people of Qena are deprived of the much-needed economic benefits of potential tourist activity.

In 2006, the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that it would restore the space. The ambitious project was to include the construction of a museum, a cultural center, bazaars, restaurants and other services around the temple.

The restoration of the temple’s interior is almost complete, but the city’s development has witnessed little progress. Although land was allocated for the museum five years ago, construction work never started. With only one hotel in the city and very few bazaars, the Dendara temple has failed, despite its significance, to “take its place on the touristic scene,” as the head of the temple’s restoration team Fathy Ashour acknowledged.

Tourist groups drive in from Luxor and the Red Sea resorts twice weekly to visit the temple, but because they leave on the same day, the city does not see the economic activity that longer stays would bring.

“If there was another tourist attraction in Qena, tourists would be encouraged to stay the night, and benefit Qena’s economy by using services,” Ashour added.

The Dendara temple was built in the Greco-Roman period to worship Hathour, the goddess of beauty and love. Alterations made to it reflect the history of the city and its inhabitants. Its halls are famous for large columns with Hathour’s face carved on all four sides. These carvings were deformed by Coptic Christians who suffered persecution during the Greco-Roman period and believed the faces to be symbols of paganism. A Coptic basilica in one of the temple's halls was built using columns from the Pharaonic temple of Isis, as the drawings on the columns show. The remains of other columns inside Dendara show that it was built on the ruins of an earlier Pharaonic temple.

A sanatorium where Hathour healed the sick is still visited today, as well as Roman and Pharaonic birth houses that are believed to have helped women conceive.

At the back of the temple is a rare illustration of Cleopatra and Caesar with their son Caesarian. The Ministry of Antiquities is trying to retrieve from the Louvre Museum in Paris another rare object from the Dendara temple, a colored stone plaque of horoscopes.

Restoration works have focused on the temple’s ceiling, which illustrates the hours of night and day as well as the heavenly bodies. The ceiling had been covered with a black coat of animal fat, built up as people lived in the temple in the past.

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