When you think of Rome, you think about the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. You would not ever think about its pyramid.
In 30 B.C., the Romans conquered Egypt. The held the country for over 600 years, and, as they did with other cultures of their conquests, they took some of their favorite parts and brought them back to Rome. One of these favorites was the pyramids.
The Pyramid of Cestus is 120 feet tall and was built for Caius Cestius Epulo outside the city center. The interior was once decorated with traditional Roman frescos and held all Gaius’ worldly possessions. Over the years, the tomb has been stripped bare by thieves, leaving no evidence of who Caius may have been. All that is known comes from an inscription on the side of the pyramid which says the structure was built on the orders of his heirs, “L. Pontus Mela, son of Publius, of the Claudian district, and his freedman Pothus”. This same inscription also states the structure took 330 days to build.
This pyramid deviates from the ones seen in Egypt as it rises upwards at a sharper angle than the standard. Historians are not sure why that is, but some believe it could have been a miscommunication to the builders. They also suggest that the building material used may have allowed for a taller structure to be built. Egyptians used limestone blocks to build their pyramids; the Romans built with brick and cement before covering it with marble.
There may have been more pyramids in Rome, but historians only have evidence of two, and the Pyramid of Cestus is the only one still around. When the Pyramid of Romulus still stood, many people believed the two structures were the tombs of the city’s founders, Romulus and Remus. Eventually, Romulus’ structure was dismantled, and its marble used on the stairs for St. Peter’s Basilica. Cestus became part of the Aurelian Walls built around the city, which may explain why it still stands today.
The Pyramid of Cestus now sits near a train station at a busy intersection in a main part of the city. In 2013, a major restoration project took place in which many of the original frescos were returned to their former glory. The structure is also used as one of Rome’s many cat sanctuaries. Reservations are required to visit the site, and tourists can only access the interior on the third and fourth weekends of every month.
So next time you are in Rome, go catch a glimpse of the Italian pyramid.
- Pyramid of Cestius [Atlas Obscura]
- How to Visit the Pyramid [Wanted In Rome]
- Feature Picture [Wikimedia]