Pyramid of Cestius

Rome, Italy

The Pyramid of Cestius is an ancient pyramid in Rome. Due to its incorporation into the city's fortifications, it is today one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome.

The pyramid was built about 18–12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate and member of one of the four great religious corporations in Rome, the Septemviri Epulonum. The sharply pointed shape of the pyramid is strongly reminiscent of the pyramids of Nubia, in particular of the kingdom of Meroë, which had been attacked by Rome in 23 BC. The similarity suggests that Cestius had possibly served in that campaign and perhaps intended the pyramid to serve as a commemoration.

The pyramid is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble standing on a travertine foundation. The pyramid measures 29.6 m square at the base and stands 37m high.

In the interior is the burial chamber, a simple barrel-vaulted rectangular cavity. When opened in 1660, the chamber was found to be decorated with frescoes, which were recorded by Pietro Santi Bartoli. Only scant traces of these frescoes survive, and no trace of any other contents. The tomb had been sealed when it was built, with no exterior entrance, but had been plundered at some time thereafter, probably during antiquity. Until the end of restoration works in 2015, it was not possible for visitors to access the interior, except by special permission typically only granted to scholars. Since the beginning of May 2015, the pyramid is open to the public every second and fourth Saturday each month. Visitors must arrange their visit in advance.

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