Dandarah

DANDARAH

An ancient town on the west bank of the Nile. Up to the Roman period, it was the chief site for the worship of Hathor (Aphrodite), the goddess of heaven and of love. As early as the Old Kingdom a shrine existed here. The present temple, however, had its origin in the late Ptolemaic and early Roman period. It is one of the best-preserved Egyptian temples. Christianity had already gained a foothold here at the end of the third century. Since the first quarter of the fourth century, Dandarah has been known as the seat of a bishop.

All that remains of the old town today is a shapeless field of potsherds out of which juts the impressive precinct of the Hathor temple. It is not known when the town was abandoned. ABU AL-MAKARIM (at the beginning of the thirteenth century), who normally speaks only of churches, mentions the town only in respect to the temple and the holy lake. Thus the site might already have been abandoned in the thirteenth century. At any rate, it is inserted in the lists of bishops down to the fourteenth century (Timm, 1984, Vol. 2, p. 545), although the last bishops were presumably only titular bishops.

Whether the Hathor temple or sections of it were converted into a Christian church has not been ascertained. Only M. Jullien speaks of the insertion of a church in the pronaos of the temple (Munier, 1940, p. 162). But extensive remains of a church are preserved between the two birth houses (Mammisi) on the northwest corner of the inner precinct of the temple. This church is one of the most beautiful of Egyptian churches; the regularity of its ground plan and the balanced proportions are only seldom encountered. The entrances are found at the west end of both long sides. Across small anterooms, one enters the narthex situated rather deep inside the building and bordered on the west side by a series of rooms. Here are the stairs as well as accommodations for a couple of liturgical side chambers. In no other Egyptian building was a solution of this kind repeated. The naos has three aisles and is provided with a western return aisle. The side walls contain semicircular niches. They are decorated with flanking columns and sculptured niche

heads, and in their location, they correspond exactly to the intercolumnia of the rows of columns. The sanctuary has the plan of a triconch as is the case in the two monastery churches of Suhaj, DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH and DAYR ANBA BISHOI. The main conch in the east was provided with niches and an inner circle of columns. Moreover, the general regularity of the formation points to the fact that here for the first time a cupola was constructed over the center. The stones required for vaulting were cut in the neighboring Roman Mammisi where today a drawing of the triconch is preserved on the floor (Monneret de Villard, 1925, p. 49). Both the side chambers of the sanctuary are gamma-shaped in order to lead around the side conchs of the triconch. Judging by the stone sculpture of the building, especially the design of the heads of the niches, the church could have been built about the middle of the sixth century. It belongs to the small number of Egyptian examples of architectural sculpture produced specifically for building construction. Only the great columns and capitals in the nave were reused from older buildings.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Daumas, F. Dendara et le temple d’Hathor. Cairo, 1969.
  • Grossmann, P. “Esempi d’architettura paleocristiana in Egitto dal V al VII secolo.” Corsi Ravenna 28 (1981):170-72.
  • Johannes, G. Streifzüge durch die Kirchen und Klöster Ägyptens, pp. 52-53. Leipzig and Berlin, 1914.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. Les Couvents près de Sohâg, Vol. 1, pp. 4749. Milan, 1925.
  • Munier, H. “Les Monuments coptes d’après le père Michel Jullien.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 6 (1940):141-68.
  • Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit, Vol. 2, pp. 543-48. Wiesbaden, 1984.

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