You might be surprised to hear that Rome, Italy has its own pyramid! Having conquered Nubia (today located in southern Egypt and Sudan) in 23BC and Egypt in 30BC the Romans were inspired to imitate the pyramids they had seen. Of several pyramid tombs constructed in Rome the one remaining is the Pyramid of Cestius built in c. 18-12BC. Gaius Cestius Epulo was a court official and member of the College of Septemviri Epulones who had the pyramid-shaped tomb built for himself and his family.
The pyramid is not a crumbling ruin like many ancient structures in Rome, it is a sturdy piece of construction. It stands 37 meters high and is 30 meters wide. The point at the top of the pyramid is sharper than the Egyptian pyramids we are used to seeing. The structure was built using concrete and brick and then covered with marble slabs.
At the time the pyramid was built outside the city walls like all burial tombs but today it can be found within easy access of the city center. By the 3rd century Rome had become crowded and buildings had started to go up around the pyramid. Around 271AD-274AD the Aurelian Walls were constructed encircling Rome’s seven hills and as it was the custom at the time to reuse older structures in new building projects, the tomb was integrated into the walls as a bastion. It was thanks to the pyramid’s use as part of the wall that it has remained so well preserved.
The pyramid lay uncared for through the Middle Ages, and Romans even forgot who was buried inside. Then in the 1660s the pope had the pyramid restored and at this time they found an inscription on the exterior naming Gaius Cestius and stating that it had taken 330 days to build. Within the pyramid are frescoes depicting Roman mythology and panels with carvings of female figures. Over the next 250 years or so the pyramid was a “must-see” for travelers doing the Grand Tour of Europe and the structure was used as a model by architects and inspiration for poets. In March 2013 long awaited restoration began on the pyramid tomb which had suffered damage from water seepage and of course, time.
The pyramid is located next to the Protestant Cemetery of Rome on Via del Campo Boario. It can be reached from the metro stop: Pyramide or on bus #23. The pyramid can be seen from the outside at anytime for free. Tours of the interior are conducted Monday to Friday 9am-6pm and Saturdays 9am-2pm but tickets must be booked in advance through the call center (+39 06 399 677 00). Admission is €5.50.
NOTE: If you are planning a trip to Ostia Antica to see the ruins there, you can take a short detour at the Pyramid while waiting for the train to take you to Ostia Antica for the day. It is a short detour and well worth it, since the Pyramid is just across the street from the subway stop.