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Relocating the Temple of Dendur

The Temple of Dendur was commissioned by the first Roman emperor Caesar Augustus and completed in 10 BC in Egypt. The temple was dedicated to Isis and Osiris and to two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain, Pediese (to whom Isis was given) and Pihor (he who belongs to Horus). This temple was in danger of flooding in the 1960s during the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the formation of Lake Nasser.

To save the temple the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia was established by UNESCO. Soon countries began working as quickly as they could to save artifacts before they were submerged by the lake. In 1965 the Temple of Dendur was given to the U.S. by Egypt for its participation in the rescue effort The 36th President of the U.S. Lyndon Johnson presented the temple to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Before the temple was erected in the museum there were two alternative locations suggested. One was on the banks of the Potomac River in the capital of the U.S. Washington D.C. and the other on the banks of the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts. These ideas did not go through because it was feared that the sandstone of the temple would not withstand the climatic outdoor conditions.

This small stone temple was then dismantled and all of the 642 pieces were shipped to the U.S. on the S.S. Concordia Star. Flatbed trucks met the ship at the docs and brought all the pieces to the museum on Fifth Avenue in New York City. When the pieces were unpacked it was like what would happen with a badly cut jigsaw puzzle. Not all of them were numbered and some were numbered incorrectly. As with other objects that have to be assembled you look for the instructions or in this case section drawings which unfortunately were in French.

Mon Dieu! in French My God! in English. What a dilemma but people always have been known to use their intelligence and so it was in this case. A team of stonecutters, carvers, masons and museum curators could put the temple together and you can see it in New York City in the custom-built Sackler Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The temple has a reflecting pool in front of it and a sloping wall behind it which represents the Nile River and the cliffs that were in the original location. The glass on the ceiling and the north wall was made so that it would resemble the lighting in Nubia.

  • Question of

    Isn’t it amazing that a temple could be relocated just to save it so future generations can learn about it?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    Have you had to put things together with bad instructions?

    • Yes
    • No

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