By Jeremy Patton
The Temple of Debod (Templo de Debod) is a reconstructed, ancient Egyptian temple located in Madrid, Spain, about a quarter-mile from the Royal Palace.
My ex-girlfriend and I stumbled upon it after visiting the palace in October of 2014. It appeared to be authentic, which intrigued me greatly; I had no idea how it ended up in Spain.
It was constructed in the 2nd century B.C.E., beginning as a small dedication to the god Amun and goddess Isis. Later, kings of the Ptolemaic dynasty added rooms. Later still, Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius adorned it. The official tourism website of Madrid claims that Emperor Hadrid might have also contributed.
During the 1960s, the Aswan High Dam was constructed across the Nile River to control flooding, store water for irrigation and generate electricity. The creation of Lake Nasser threatened archaeological sites, including the Temple of Debod. Efforts were made to save many of those sites. Some temples were moved to higher elevation, while others were donated to four countries that were involved in the effort. The Temple of Debod was dismantled and shipped to Spain.
Sadly, some antiquities were left to be submerged by Lake Nasser, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The situation reminds me of the destruction caused by the formation of Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. People were displaced from their homes and numerous archaeological sites and ancient cave systems were ruined.
A part of me feels that these man-made lakes are beneficial public works, but another part thinks that we humans should curb our exponential population growth and just leave shit alone. The Nile has flooded its banks consistantly for millennia in a region that once was the cradle of civilization. Why alter it now?
One of the few upsides to the temple’s relocation is that it can be admired by more people. I would love to go to Egypt, but I am not sure how safe I would feel there as a white, non-Muslim American. I do not know much about modern Egypt, so perhaps my fears are unfounded
It is also good for antiquities to be spread across the globe, reducing the damage that can be inflicted upon them collectively. For example, the theft of sculptures from the Acropolis of Athens by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century was undoubtly a crime against Greece. A few upsides, however, are that more people have access to authentic sculptures of the Golden Age of Athens (the Elgin Marbles are housed in the British Museum). Furthermore, the entire collection cannot be demolished in a single catastophic event. Greece has long petitioned for their return, and rightly so, but the fact that they are not all housed in a single museum is, in a way, comforting.
If my fear of antiquities being destroyed by war seems far fetched, keep in mind that the Parthenon was blown up in 1687 when a cannonball struck ammunition that was being stored inside it. It is a miracle that any part of the Parthenon remains standing. Indeed, some of the sculptures housed in the British Museum bear the scars of that incident.
But back to the temple: I cannot remember much about its interior. I think we had been walking for most of the day and were tired. There was no entrance fee. If you plan to make a special trip to see it, make sure that you check its hours of operation:
The Temple of Debod
Calle Ferraz, 1, 28008 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 66 74 15
I found an old photo of the temple before is was shipped to Spain. If you compare it to my photos from 2014, the Spaniards placed the gateways in the wrong order. In Egypt, the gateway bearing the symbol of the sun and serpent was placed in the front of the procession.