Thursday, July 24, 2008

The sands of time

Whenever I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I visit the Temple of Dendur. Every time.

There's something about the sheer age of the building - and its completeness - that awes me. Every time.

The temple, a tomb for two brothers, is built of massive bricks of sandstone and covered in detailed carvings. Its accessibility - in its own glass temple - is extraordinary; you can walk up to it, around it, into it.

The temple is over 2000 years old - an almost incomprehensible length of time. I mean really, what were they doing 20 centuries ago? What were they wearing? But the Temple of Dendur, given to the USA in the 1960s and first exhibited by the Met in 1978, also shows another timeline. One that brings that timeline of centuries to a tad more human scale.

Carved into one of the pillars of the wharf in neat Roman capital lettering is the name "LEONARDO 1820" and over on the walls of the temple are the names "Belmore" and "Madox" carved two years earlier.

Almost 200 years ago, some young toughs were standing on the banks of the Nile, scratching away at the walls of the temple, leaving their mark. And they were not the first. There is a trail of graffiti on the temple that evidently dates back to 10BC - just 5 years after the temple was built.

Looking at the Temple of Dendur, I see not only the amazing - and it is amazing - sight of a massive and beautiful building constructed long before the time of cranes, engines and concrete mixers (and hard hats), I see the stream of regular people, like me, who have stood looking at the same walls with some degree of the same wonder. Every time.

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