Pyramid of Cestius: Rome’s 2000-Year-Old Pyramid

Built almost 2000 years ago, the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome is the only Egyptian pyramid in Europe. The pyramid is one of the most interesting structures of Roman architecture and its construction story goes back to the times when the Egypt-craze took over Rome.

pyramid of cestius from above

Rome conquered Egypt in 30 BCE when Octavius defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. While 18 years prior to that Ceasar had a battle in Egypt, the battle at Actium made Egypt an official province of Rome. Following the war, interest and admiration for all things Egyptian greatly increased among the Romans.

pyramid of cestius and the castle

The soldiers who went to battle in Egypt, the commanders, senators, and wealthy men alike fell in love with the Egyptian culture and especially buildings. The pyramids, obelisks, sculptures, and temples of Egypt fascinated them. In the following years, replicas of these structures started to appear in Rome as well.

pyramid of cestius from ground level

One of these structures was the Pyramid of Cestius. It was designed as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a praetor, and a member of one of Rome’s strongest religious corporations. While it is not certain, the fact that Cestius wanted a pyramid for a tomb indicates that he may have taken place in the battles in Egypt.

pyramid of cestius interior room

The inscriptions in the column near the Pyramid of Cestius confirm the identity of the tomb’s resident as Gaius Cestius. The long lines of inscriptions also tell that the tomb was completed in 330 days.

the monument near the pyramid of cestius

Although it took inspiration from the Egyptian pyramids, the Pyramid of Cestius is different in some ways. Firstly, its upper levels are a lot pointier than an Egyptian pyramid. Secondly, it is only 36 meters tall while the Egyptian ones are over 100 meters.

the structure and the road

The reason why the Pyramid of Cestius lacked the grandiose outlook of its original examples was because Rome at the time had laws for that. There were laws passed by the Roman senate that specifically prevented the extreme displays of wealth on tombs.

the structure exterior close up

However, even the regulations did not stop the pyramid from looking glorious. Today, 2000 years after its construction, the Pyramid of Cestius is still the only Egyptian pyramid tomb in Europe. The Italian government also opened the pyramid to the public in 2015 which received thousands of visitors.

the structure during the night