Pyramid of Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

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The Pyramid of Cestius is the tomb of affluent magistrate Caius Cestius which was built in the 1st century BC in Rome, Italy. Constructed of white marble and brick, this ostentatious 35-metre high tomb was built in this style due to the popularity of all things Egyptian which swept Rome after Egypt was incorporated into the Empire.

This pyramid-tomb was later set into the Aurelian Walls, helping to ensure its preservation through the ages so that visitors today largely see what our ancient ancestors saw.

Pyramid of Cestius history

The immense pyramid was built as a tomb between 18 and 12 BC for the Roman magistrate Gaius Cestius. Cestius was a member of the one of Rome’s great religious organisations – the Septemviri Epulonum. The pyramid was built from brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble. Measuring 29.6 metres square at the base, the monumental resting place rose 37 metres high.

The sharp point at the top of the tomb resembled the pyramids of Nubia from the kingdom of Meroë, attacked by Rome in 23 BC. It is likely Cestius served in the Egyptian campaign and so the pyramid commemorated both his military and religious career. The other pyramid of Rome, the Pyramid of Romulus, dwarfed Cestius’ tomb but was dismantled by the papacy in the 16th century to build the steps of St Peter’s Basilica.

During the construction of the Aurelian Walls between 271 and 275 BC the pyramid was incorporated into the fortifications as a triangular bastion. Reusing the pyramid in this way would have reduced the costs and building time of the new walls.

In the Middle Ages, people believed that Cestius’ pyramid was the companion to Romulus’ pyramid and thus belonged to his legendary brother Remus. However, during excavations led by Pope Alexander VII in the 1660s, inscriptions and tunnelling into the tomb found bronze statues that clarified the resting place as that of the largely unknown Gaius Cestius.

For those embarking on the Grand Tour during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Pyramid of Cestius was a must-see. Percy Shelley described it as “one keen pyramid with wedge sublime” in a 1821 elegy for the poet John Keats.

Pyramid of Cestius today

Today, the pyramid can only be accessed with special permission due to ongoing conservation works. Yet the pyramid’s exterior can be admired fully from within the Aurelian Walls near the Protestant Cemetery on the northwest side.

Ring-fenced by a guard railing, the Pyramid of Cestius continues to provide a dramatic, awe-inspiring feature to the ancient Roman landscape – a true feat when you consider the monuments it must share the city with.

Getting to the Pyramid of Cestius

Situated next to the Porta S. Paolo at a busy traffic intersection, the Pyramid of Cestius is easily found on foot or via Rome’s immense public transport network. Get the Roma Lido metro line to Porta S. Paolo station over the road from the pyramid, or catch the 23, 77, 715, 716, 769, n716, nMB or NME buses to stops of the same name. Trams 3 and 8 also stop at the Porta S. Paolo.

The Pyramid of Cestius: An Egyptian tomb in Rome

The visitor to Rome will no doubt be amazed at the plethora of ancient Egyptian obelisks on display across the city but they will only find one pyramid. The Pyramid of Cestius is not only one of the best examples of ancient Egyptian culture’s influence on the Roman Empire but it is also one of the best-preserved buildings from the Imperial Period in general. It was built around 2000 years ago as a mausoleum for the magistrate and priest Caius Cestius and his family. It also played an important part in protecting the city from marauding tribes since it was incorporated into the Aurealian walls as a bastion when Rome grew. This rare gem was recently renovated and opened to the public in 2016, so it is well worth a visit.


Over the course of his time etching in Rome, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) became obsessed with a few different monuments, which he returned to again and again as his style and interests evolved. The Pyramid of Cestius was one of these monuments. The progression of prints of the Pyramid is shown below:

Pyramid of Cestius, Varie Vedute, G. B. Piranesi, 1745.

Pyramid of Cestius, Vedute di Roma (earlier edition), G. B. Piranesi, ca. 1751.

Pyramid of Cestius, Antichita Romane, G. B. Piranesi, 1756.

Pyramid of Cestius, Vedute di Roma (later version), G. B. Piranesi, pre-1760.

In the 1745 portfolio Varie Vedute , Piranesi begins to depart from the more traditional style of his master of the previous five years, printmaker Giuseppe Vasi. The top of the pyramid rises up and over the top edge of the plate in an illusionistic manner. 1 His Vedute di Roma (editions from 1751 until his death in 1778) plates were much larger than the Varie Vedute , allowing for greater detail and Piranesi's expression of the monumentality of Rome's public spaces. 2 His depictions of light become more painterly and descriptive. The surface is cleared of vegetation in order for the edges and inscriptions to be more visible. Wilton-Ely calls this a "factual statement of exaggerated force." 3

Piranesi was seeing the Pyramid as both artist and archaeologist when he returned to it again in 1756 for the Antichita Romane portfolio. 4 He flexes his engineering training (which he received from his uncle, an engineer for the Venetian waterworks) to produce something more like an archaeological illustration, with a sharp focus and higher level of detail than the Vedute. 5 The Pyramid, now viewed from a low vantage point, rises above the viewer almost dizzyingly, grazing the top of the plate.

He returned to the Vedute sometime before 1760 and radically recut the plate of the Pyramid of Cestius. The vantage is from roughly the same height as the Antichita, rising from the very bottom to the very top of the plate. The leftmost edge of the Pyramid forms a strong diagonal between the ruins and trees of the bottom right portion and the wide open sky of the top left. The trees (almost entirely erased from the Antichita) are back with a vengeance, digging their gnarled roots into the ancient structures. 6

(Piranesi’s etchings depict the exterior of the monument. For interior views, see Pietro Santi Bartoli’s etchings of the interior on another page.)

Angelokastro is a Byzantine castle on the island of Corfu. It is located at the top of the highest peak of the island"s shoreline in the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa and built on particularly precipitous and rocky terrain. It stands 305 m on a steep cliff above the sea and surveys the City of Corfu and the mountains of mainland Greece to the southeast and a wide area of Corfu toward the northeast and northwest.

Angelokastro is one of the most important fortified complexes of Corfu. It was an acropolis which surveyed the region all the way to the southern Adriatic and presented a formidable strategic vantage point to the occupant of the castle.

Angelokastro formed a defensive triangle with the castles of Gardiki and Kassiopi, which covered Corfu"s defences to the south, northwest and northeast.

The castle never fell, despite frequent sieges and attempts at conquering it through the centuries, and played a decisive role in defending the island against pirate incursions and during three sieges of Corfu by the Ottomans, significantly contributing to their defeat.

During invasions it helped shelter the local peasant population. The villagers also fought against the invaders playing an active role in the defence of the castle.

The exact period of the building of the castle is not known, but it has often been attributed to the reigns of Michael I Komnenos and his son Michael II Komnenos. The first documentary evidence for the fortress dates to 1272, when Giordano di San Felice took possession of it for Charles of Anjou, who had seized Corfu from Manfred, King of Sicily in 1267.

From 1387 to the end of the 16th century, Angelokastro was the official capital of Corfu and the seat of the Provveditore Generale del Levante, governor of the Ionian islands and commander of the Venetian fleet, which was stationed in Corfu.

The governor of the castle (the castellan) was normally appointed by the City council of Corfu and was chosen amongst the noblemen of the island.

Angelokastro is considered one of the most imposing architectural remains in the Ionian Islands.

Pyramid of Cestius - History

The Pyramid stands near the Porta San Paolo. It is a spectacular burial tomb of 29.50m on each side and 36.40m. high, entirely faced with slabs of marble. Its particular form is an expression the &ldquoEgyptian style&rdquo which spread to Rome following its conquest of Egypt in 30 BC.

The name of Caius Cestius is recorded in the inscription placed on the east side of the monument: &ldquoCaius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the Poblilia tribe, praetor, tribune of the people, septemvir of the epuloni&rdquo. An inscription on the opposite side reveals that, in accordance with the bequest in his will, fewer than 300 days were devoted to its construction. But it was not possible to fulfil another request of the deceased: a law against luxury in burial monuments, approved in 18 BC, prevented the deposition in the tomb of the Pergamene tapestries that belonged to the deceased. With the profits from their sale there were then made two bronze statues of the dead man. Of the statues there survive (in the Capitoline Museums) only the inscribed bases on which are mentioned some of the legatees. Among these are eminent people in public life such as Marcus Agrippa, son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus, whom we know to have died in 12 BC.

The construction of the Pyramid can therefore be dated between 18 and 12 BC. The Caius Cestius buried there is perhaps the praetor with the same name to whom is probably owed the construction of the Ponte Cestio, between the TiberIsland and Trastevere. He also may be the person of the same name active between 62 and 51 BC in Asia Minor possession of the precious tapestries might in fact point in this direction.

Access to the burial chamber was from the west side of the Pyramid. Vivid witness accounts of its rich pictorial decoration are found in descriptions made at the time of its re-discovery during the restoration sponsored in 1656 by Pope Alexander VII. A high wainscot and delicate candelabra framed monochrome panels in which there were female figures either standing or seated in the angles of the ceiling, winged Victories with crowns perhaps alluded to the apotheosis of Caius Cestius. This is one of the first examples in Rome of the third style of painting.

In the third century AD the burial tomb was incorporated in the Aurelian Walls and became, like the neighbouring Porta Ostiense, an integral part of the defensive system of the city.

Septemvir of the epuloni: priest of the college responsible for organizing banquets for the gods

Tribune of the people: magistrate who oversaw the interests of the Roman people

Praetor: originally, a chief of the army, then from the 4 th century BC a civil magistrate with responsibility for the administration of justice.

Current Condition & Conservation Efforts

Until the nineteenth century, travelers on the Grand Tour saw the Pyramid of Cestius as the archetypical pyramid, rather than the less-accessible pyramids at Giza. 1 Since then, travelers to the grave of John Keats (d. 1821) at the nearby Protestant Cemetery have waxed poetic about the Pyramid of Cestius. 2 In the twentieth century, as World War II raged across Europe, bullets and bombs left marks that are still visible today, an unintentional record of the Pyramid’s later history. 3

The modern city of Rome has grown up around the Pyramid, which is now surrounded by an intersection heavily trafficked by cars, a subway station (“Pyramide”), and a train station. In 2012, the Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome recognized the critical condition of the monument, which had suffered from the buildup of car and train exhaust grime on the surface as well as the deformation of the marble cladding. 4

Yazi posing with Pyramid in 2014. (Solaro, AFP 2014.)

Yugo Yazi, president of fashion importer Yagi Tsusho LTD in Japan, donated two million euros ($2.7 million USD) to restore the monument. At a ceremony at the monument on July 15, 2014, Yazi called his gift “an act of gratitude” for Italian fashion exports which helped grow his company. Italy’s culture ministry (like that of Greece, Spain, and other countries which have borne the weight of the global recession) suffers from chronic underfunding. Officials within the culture ministry hope that restoration of the Pyramid will be seen as a model for cooperation between the public and private sector. 5

Restoration work, which began on November 26, 2012, was headed by architect Maria Filetici and archaeologist Rita Paris (who still oversees the Pyramid). The “conservative restoration” of the marble surface and the consolidation of the loosened cladding was completed (notably, on schedule) in the Fall of 2014. 6 The constant pollution in Rome’s city center will be mitigated by teams of free-climbers spot-cleaning the monument on a monthly basis. 7

Donald M. Reid, Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 58.

See, for example: Thomas Hardy’s 1903 poem, “Rome.”

Andreas Solaro, “Japanese Businessman Yuzo Yagi Thanks Italy with $2.7 Million Roman Pyramid,” Agence France Presse , July 15, 2014.

“The Restoration of the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius,” Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma , December 12, 2012. URL:

Domenico Stinellis, “Rome's lonely Pyramid of Cestius gets a new lease of life,” Associated Press in Rome , February 3, 2016.

Andreas Solaro, “Japanese Businessman Yuzo Yagi Thanks Italy with $2.7 Million Roman Pyramid,” Agence France Presse , July 15, 2014.

Domenico Stinellis, “Rome's lonely Pyramid of Cestius gets a new lease of life,” Associated Press in Rome , February 3, 2016.


Mesopotamia Edit

The Mesopotamians built the earliest pyramidal structures, called ziggurats. In ancient times, these were brightly painted in gold/bronze. Since they were constructed of sun-dried mud-brick, little remains of them. Ziggurats were built by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Elamites, Akkadians, and Assyrians for local religions. Each ziggurat was part of a temple complex which included other buildings. The precursors of the ziggurat were raised platforms that date from the Ubaid period [6] during the fourth millennium BC. The earliest ziggurats began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period. [7] The latest Mesopotamian ziggurats date from the 6th century BC.

Built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, the ziggurat was a pyramidal structure with a flat top. Sun-baked bricks made up the core of the ziggurat with facings of fired bricks on the outside. The facings were often glazed in different colors and may have had astrological significance. Kings sometimes had their names engraved on these glazed bricks. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven. It is assumed that they had shrines at the top, but there is no archaeological evidence for this and the only textual evidence is from Herodotus. [8] Access to the shrine would have been by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by a spiral ramp from base to summit.

Egypt Edit

The most famous pyramids are the Egyptian — huge structures built of brick or stone, some of which are among the world's largest constructions. They are shaped as a reference to the rays of the sun. Most pyramids had a polished, highly reflective white limestone surface, to give them a shining appearance when viewed from a distance. The capstone was usually made of hard stone – granite or basalt – and could be plated with gold, silver, or electrum and would also be highly reflective. [9] The ancient Egyptians built pyramids from 2700 BC until around 1700 BC. The first pyramid was erected during the Third Dynasty by the Pharaoh Djoser and his architect Imhotep. This step pyramid consisted of six stacked mastabas. The largest Egyptian pyramids are those at the Giza pyramid complex. [10]

The age of the pyramids reached its zenith at Giza in 2575–2150 BC. [11] Ancient Egyptian pyramids were in most cases placed west of the river Nile because the divine pharaoh's soul was meant to join with the sun during its descent before continuing with the sun in its eternal round. [9] As of 2008, some 135 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. [12] [13] The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest in Egypt and one of the largest in the world. At 481 ft, it was the tallest building in the world until Lincoln Cathedral was finished in 1311 AD. The base is over 52,600 square metres (566,000 sq ft) in area. The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is the only one to survive into modern times. The Ancient Egyptians covered the faces of pyramids with polished white limestone, containing great quantities of fossilized seashells. [14] Many of the facing stones have fallen or have been removed and used for construction in Cairo.

Most pyramids are located near Cairo, with only one royal pyramid being located south of Cairo, at the Abydos temple complex. The pyramid at Abydos, Egypt were commissioned by Ahmose I who founded the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom. [15] The building of pyramids began in the Third Dynasty with the reign of King Djoser. [16] Early kings such as Snefru built several pyramids, with subsequent kings adding to the number of pyramids until the end of the Middle Kingdom.

The last king to build royal pyramids was Ahmose, [17] with later kings hiding their tombs in the hills, such as those in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor's West Bank. [18] In Medinat Habu, or Deir el-Medina, smaller pyramids were built by individuals. Smaller pyramids with steeper sides were also built by the Nubians who ruled Egypt in the Late Period. [19]

Sudan Edit

While pyramids are associated with Egypt, the nation of Sudan has 220 extant pyramids, the most numerous in the world. [20] Nubian pyramids were constructed (roughly 240 of them) at three sites in Sudan to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroë. The pyramids of Kush, also known as Nubian Pyramids, have different characteristics than the pyramids of Egypt. The Nubian pyramids were constructed at a steeper angle than Egyptian ones. Pyramids were still being built in Sudan as late as 200 AD.

Nigeria Edit

One of the unique structures of Igbo culture was the Nsude Pyramids, at the Nigerian town of Nsude, northern Igboland. Ten pyramidal structures were built of clay/mud. The first base section was 60 ft. in circumference and 3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala, who was believed to reside at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god's residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its toll requiring periodic reconstruction. [21]

Greece Edit

Pausanias (2nd century AD) mentions two buildings resembling pyramids, one, 19 kilometres (12 mi) southwest of the still standing structure at Hellenikon, [22] a common tomb for soldiers who died in a legendary struggle for the throne of Argos and another which he was told was the tomb of Argives killed in a battle around 669/8 BC. Neither of these still survive and there is no evidence that they resembled Egyptian pyramids.

There are also at least two surviving pyramid-like structures still available to study, one at Hellenikon and the other at Ligourio/Ligurio, a village near the ancient theatre Epidaurus. These buildings were not constructed in the same manner as the pyramids in Egypt. They do have inwardly sloping walls but other than those there is no obvious resemblance to Egyptian pyramids. They had large central rooms (unlike Egyptian pyramids) and the Hellenikon structure is rectangular rather than square, 12.5 by 14 metres (41 by 46 ft) which means that the sides could not have met at a point. [23] The stone used to build these structures was limestone quarried locally and was cut to fit, not into freestanding blocks like the Great Pyramid of Giza. [ citation needed ]

The dating of these structures has been made from the pot shards excavated from the floor and on the grounds. The latest dates available from scientific dating have been estimated around the 5th and 4th centuries. Normally this technique is used for dating pottery, but here researchers have used it to try to date stone flakes from the walls of the structures. This has created some debate about whether or not these structures are actually older than Egypt, which is part of the Black Athena controversy. [24]

Mary Lefkowitz has criticised this research. She suggests that some of the research was done not to determine the reliability of the dating method, as was suggested, but to back up an assumption of age and to make certain points about pyramids and Greek civilization. She notes that not only are the results not very precise, but that other structures mentioned in the research are not in fact pyramids, e.g. a tomb alleged to be the tomb of Amphion and Zethus near Thebes, a structure at Stylidha (Thessaly) which is just a long wall, etc. She also notes the possibility that the stones that were dated might have been recycled from earlier constructions. She also notes that earlier research from the 1930s, confirmed in the 1980s by Fracchia was ignored. She argues that they undertook their research using a novel and previously untested methodology in order to confirm a predetermined theory about the age of these structures. [25]

Liritzis responded in a journal article published in 2011, stating that Lefkowitz failed to understand and misinterpreted the methodology. [26]

Spain Edit

The Pyramids of Güímar refer to six rectangular pyramid-shaped, terraced structures, built from lava stone without the use of mortar. They are located in the district of Chacona, part of the town of Güímar on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The structures have been dated to the 19th century and their original function explained as a byproduct of contemporary agricultural techniques.

Autochthonous Guanche traditions as well as surviving images indicate that similar structures (also known as, "Morras", "Majanos", "Molleros", or "Paredones") could once have been found in many locations on the island. However, over time they have been dismantled and used as a cheap building material. In Güímar itself there were nine pyramids, only six of which survive.

China Edit

There are many square flat-topped mound tombs in China. The First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (circa 221 BC, who unified the 7 pre-Imperial Kingdoms) was buried under a large mound outside modern day Xi'an. In the following centuries about a dozen more Han Dynasty royals were also buried under flat-topped pyramidal earthworks.

Mesoamerica Edit

A number of Mesoamerican cultures also built pyramid-shaped structures. Mesoamerican pyramids were usually stepped, with temples on top, more similar to the Mesopotamian ziggurat than the Egyptian pyramid.

The largest pyramid by volume is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Constructed from the 3rd century BC to the 9th century AD, this pyramid is considered the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world, and is still being excavated. The third largest pyramid in the world, the Pyramid of the Sun, at Teotihuacan is also located in Mexico. There is an unusual pyramid with a circular plan at the site of Cuicuilco, now inside Mexico City and mostly covered with lava from an eruption of the Xitle Volcano in the 1st century BC. There are several circular stepped pyramids called Guachimontones in Teuchitlán, Jalisco as well.

Pyramids in Mexico were often used as places of human sacrifice. For the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, Where, according to Michael Harner, "one source states 20,000, another 72,344, and several give 80,400". [27]

US and Canada Edit

Many pre-Columbian Native American societies of ancient North America built large pyramidal earth structures known as platform mounds. Among the largest and best-known of these structures is Monks Mound at the site of Cahokia in what became Illinois, completed around 1100 AD, which has a base larger than that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Many of the mounds underwent multiple episodes of mound construction at periodic intervals, some becoming quite large. They are believed to have played a central role in the mound-building peoples' religious life and documented uses include semi-public chief's house platforms, public temple platforms, mortuary platforms, charnel house platforms, earth lodge/town house platforms, residence platforms, square ground and rotunda platforms, and dance platforms. [28] [29] [30] Cultures who built substructure mounds include the Troyville culture, Coles Creek culture, Plaquemine culture and Mississippian cultures.

Roman Empire Edit

The 27-metre-high Pyramid of Cestius was built by the end of the 1st century BC and still exists today, close to the Porta San Paolo. Another one, named Meta Romuli, standing in the Ager Vaticanus (today's Borgo), was destroyed at the end of the 15th century. [31]

Medieval Europe Edit

Pyramids have occasionally been used in Christian architecture of the feudal era, e.g. as the tower of Oviedo's Gothic Cathedral of San Salvador.

India Edit

Many giant granite temple pyramids were made in South India during the Chola Empire, many of which are still in religious use today. Examples of such pyramid temples include Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. However, temple pyramid the largest area is the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu. The Thanjavur temple was built by Raja Raja Chola in the 11th century. The Brihadisvara Temple was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 the Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram were added as extensions to the site in 2004. [32]


We have talked about the Great Pyramid of Giza, and how the massive structure has baffled historians throughout the ages by not only its size but also its abstruse purpose. But as it turns out, in ancient times, pyramids were not only limited to the African continent – as is evident from the still existing Pyramid of Cestius. Presumed to be built between 18 and 12 BC, the structure (situated along the Via Ostiensis) was erected during the reign of the famed Augustus. As for its size, the monument being certainly dwarfed by the Egyptian pyramids, is still substantially imposing – with a square base of 29.5 m (around 97 ft) on all sides, and a height of 36.4 m (around 120 ft).

Now, in terms of structural bearing, the Pyramid of Cestius is too steep and more pointed when compared to its Egyptian counterparts. This may have demonstrated the Roman engineering prowess (or mistake), with the pointed nature being possible due to the use of concrete as the core building material (curtained by bricks and the clad with Luni marble).

However in spite of this dimensional ‘mismatch’, the construction of the Roman pyramid might have been influenced by its African counterparts. In historical terms, Egypt was already absorbed as one of the provinces of Rome by 30 BC. But arguably more interesting is the Roman military expedition to Kushite territory (northern Sudan) in 23 BC. That is because the steeper facade ratios of the Pyramid of Cestius is more akin to the Nubian pyramids designed by the Kingdom of Kush – and such extant structures may have played their influencing roles.

Quite intriguingly, the Roman architecture of the time was already propelled by the ‘Egyptian’ phase, with obelisks cropping up in many parts of the city. Some of the structures were even ‘shipped’ from Ancient Egypt – like the 25.5 m (84 ft) high obelisk in St. Peter’s Square which was probably constructed way back in 13th century BC. Furthermore, there was a larger pyramid built inside Rome, known as the ‘Pyramid of Romulus’.

In fact, during the medieval times, the Pyramid of Cestius was known as the ‘Pyramid of Remus’, and both of the monuments were believed to be the mausoleums of Rome’s legendary founders. Unfortunately, the craze for Egyptian structures had largely subsided during this epoch. So, in an unfortunate event of state-sponsored vandalism, the ‘Pyramid of Romulus’ was stripped down, and its marbles were used for the stairs of St. Peter’s Basilica (much like the Roman Pantheon components being used for the ‘baldacchino’).

As for the details of the Pyramid of Cestius itself, the structure boasts of a barrel-vaulted burial chamber of around 23 sq m (or 247 sq ft) area, which is then walled in accordance with Egyptian style. This interior portion was originally decorated with vibrant frescoes, while the inscriptions regarding the original occupant (on the southeast side) reading –

Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, of the Poblilian district, praetor, tribune of the people, official of the public banquets. According to his will, this work was completed in three hundred and thirty days it was executed by his heirs L. Pontus Mela, son of Publius, of the Claudian district, and his freedman Pothus.

As we can make out (from the second line of the inscription), the pyramid was completed in just 330 days. For comparison’s sake, the Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed over a time of 20 years. And interestingly, all of these details were rediscovered in the 1600s when tunnel builders found the Roman pyramid intact in its place. It should be also be noted that the Pyramid of Cestius was already structurally connected to the fortifications of the Aurelian walls (a task achieved between 271 and 275 AD) – an architectural decision that might have played its crucial role in maintaining the monument over the centuries.

Restoration of the Pyramid

Over the centuries, the Pyramid of Cestius has been battered by the elements. The first major restoration was undertaken in the 1600s, and the restoration of the burial chamber was carried out in 2001. In 2011, Yuzo Yagi announced his intention to provided funding for further restoration.

Archaeologist Leonardo Guarnieri told reporters on Wednesday that tours, including of the frescoed burial chamber, are now being given twice a month by reservation. Visits can be booked at

The entrance to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius in Rome, Italy, as seen from inside ( public domain )

Featured image: The Pyramid of Cestius, Rome. Source: Zachary Maggio/CC BY 2.0

Watch the video: Pyramid of Cestius (November 2022).

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