5 Pyramids of the Ancient World that You May Not Have Heard About

5 Pyramids of the Ancient World that You May Not Have Heard About

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The Great Pyramid of Giza is undoubtedly one of the most well-known icons of the ancient world. But thousands of other pyramids exist, not just in Egypt, but across the entire globe, including Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.  The reason why so many ancient civilizations, many of which had no contact with each other, were constructing pyramids at around the same time remains a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, many of these impressive monuments remain as legacies of these rich, ancient cultures. Here, we look at 5 little-known pyramids from the ancient world.  

1. A Pyramid in the Heart of Rome, Italy

Rome is well known for its ancient architecture – the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trajan’s Market and the Roman Forum to name a few – but one thing it is not often associated with is pyramids. But right in the heart of Rome, sits a 2,000-year-old pyramid, measuring 30 meters along each side and 35 meters in height. You can’t miss it! Yet very few people have heard of Rome’s Pyramid of Cestius .

The Pyramid of Cestius was built along the Via Ostiensis, an important road in ancient Rome, sometime between 18 and 12 BC. While it is debatable whether the Egyptian pyramids were ever really used as tombs, the pyramid of Cestius most definitely was. Within the pyramid is a barrel-vaulted burial chamber which, according to the inscriptions on the east and west flanks of the pyramid, housed the body of a Roman politician known as Gaius Cestius Epulo , a tribune, praetor and member of the priesthood. A second inscription announces that the building of this pyramid was completed in 330 days.

The Pyramid of Cestius

The Pyramid of Cestius ( CC by SA 2.0 )

2. The Mysterious Pyramids of Tenerife, Canary Islands

Tenerife in the Canary Islands is well-known as a holiday destination, but many tourists visit the island unaware that there are pyramids there and an ongoing mystery. Who built the pyramids, when were they constructed, and why?

The pyramids can be found at Güímar , a town in the south of Tenerife. Built from lava stone without the use of mortar, the pyramids have caused much controversy among academics. One study dated the pyramids to the 19 th century AD, based on pottery found near the site, and said they are little more than piles of volcanic rocks that farmers had made when clearing the land. However, this has been hotly disputed. Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl argues that the pyramids were built by the Guanches, the aboriginal Berber inhabitants of the Canary Islands who migrated to the archipelago around 1,000 BC. Hayerdahl points out that the constructions are painstakingly designed with stepped levels and possible alignments made for ceremonial purposes, such as those that could have been carried out at the Summer Solstice. In 1991, Juan Antonio Belmonte Avilés, Antonio Aparicio Juan, and César Esteban López, who were researchers from the Canary Institute of Astrophysics, demonstrated that the long sides of some of the terraces surrounding the pyramids of Güímar marked the direction of winter and summer solstices. Heyerdahl hypothesized that the Canarian pyramids formed a temporal and geographic stopping point on voyages between ancient Egypt and the Maya civilization, initiating a controversy in which historians, archaeologists, astronomers, and those with a general interest in history have all taken part.

One of the Pyramids of Güímar

One of the Pyramids of Güímar (Photo:  Colin Moss )

3. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico

Despite being recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest pyramid in the world in terms of its volume, not many people have heard of the Great Pyramid of Cholula . Located just outside the city of Puebla, the pyramid was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important deities of the Mesoamerican pantheon, and during pre-Colombian times, Cholula was a large city and the religious center of highland Mexico. The construction of the temple began during the 2nd century BC, and went through several stages before achieving its final form.  Around 1100 AD, the city fell into the hands of the Toltec-Chichimecas and the pyramid was abandoned as new temples were created. Over the centuries, it became covered in earth and vegetation and it was not until 1910, when authorities began the construction of a mental asylum, that the ‘natural hill’ was found to be the home of an ancient pyramid.

A section of the ruins of the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Puebla, Mexico.

A section of the ruins of the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. Photo source:  Diego Delso/CC-BY-SA 3.0

4. The Legendary 1,000Ft White Pyramid of Xian, China

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