Ancient Rome walking tour
This guided tour will take you to all the important sights of Ancient Rome like the Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus, and of course the famous Colosseum.Read more......
Rome city bike tour
Discover Rome by bike,The tour is a half day ride that will take you to some of the most popular attractions.Read more......
Don't waste your time in the long waiting queue at the Vatican Museum, you can buy your tickets online.Read more......
Segway tour in Rome
Learn to ride a segway and then experience a guided tour that leads you along to the highlights of Rome.Read more......
Pyramid of Cestius
A Egyptian looking pyramid in Rome
The Pyramid of Cestius is one of those structures which is small at a distance yet gigantic up close. It is so large that you will keep looking upward trying to look at the top! People usually expect that this pyramid is not as big as the ones in Egypt, but this one is 36.5 meters tall (almost 120 feet) and located right in the city.
Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, it is noticeable that this one has a pointy end. This is because two alleged reasons. First, Romans were able to use bricks in its construction and they managed to make it more edgy. Secondly, many paintings recorded the Giza pyramid as if it had a pointier end than it has in reality. And it is said that these paintings were the ones used as a model to build the Pyramid of Cestius.
Other scholars say that the Pyramid of Cestius was built using the Nubian Pyramids as a model, since the city in which they were (Meroë, Sudan) was conquered in a few years prior to its construction.
Who was Cestius?
This pyramid was built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a wealthy magistrate who requested to be buried there. The pyramid has the inscription
C (aius) Cestius L (ucii) F (Ilius) Epulo (nius) POB (lilia) PRAETOR tribune plebeians (September) VIR EPULORUM”. This roughly translates to“Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir epulonum”
Basically, this inscription states that Gaius Cestius was a Praetor and tribune (both are titles for magistrates and officials in Ancient Rome).
The pyramid was built in less than 330 days, according to his will. On the west side of the pyramid there was another inscription that read: “The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia and Pothus, freedman.”
But why is an Egyptian looking pyramid in the middle of Rome?
Did you know that Romans were keen on Egyptian antiquity? On 30 BC, the Romans conquered Egypt and as a result, this brought up the appeal of Egyptian culture upon Romans. This influence can be seen on monuments and structures built throughout the Roman Empire, but it is especially visible on the Pyramid of Cestius.
In fact, nowadays there is a total of 13 obelisks in Rome that were either built by Romans copying the Egyptian style or were directly took from Egypt and re-erected after its conquest. When you go to Rome, a striking sight is to see this pyramid in the middle of regular Roman neighborhood – it is in fact in the middle of an intersection! Of course, this particular structure was not always supposed to be there – back in the day, this used to be the middle of the countryside. You had to go out a little off Rome to see it.
The myth behind the Pyramid of Cestius
This pyramid is contained within the Aurelian Wall and since the wall was well-preserved over the years, the Pyramid of Cestius was also maintained. However, the existence of this pyramid sustained a myth in later years for a very long time.
In the middle Ages, the pyramid was not known as the Pyramid of Cestius – it was called “Meta Remi”. Why? Because out of two, this was the second largest pyramid in Rome. The largest pyramid was called the “Pyramid of Romulus” or “Meta Romuli”, situated near Castel Sant’Angelo (which was completely demolished by the 16th century). Consequently, through time, a myth about how these two pyramids contained the rests of Remus and Romulus (the twin brothers that founded Rome) was spread among the people.
The origins of the Pyramid of Cestius were eventually forgotten and it was rumored that this was, indeed, the tomb of Remus (hence the name “Meta Remi”) Also, the inscription became unreadable probably because of the overgrowth of plants, which was the long hidden identification of to whom the tomb was built for.
Eventually, in the fifteenth century, excavations were made, making the inscriptions readable again and finally the truth was out – the pyramid contained the rests of Cestius.
What to expect?
The burial chamber is not open publicly. The tomb of Gaius Cestius can be found inside the pyramid. During the 17th century, two bronzes were seen on the pyramid of Cestius and were transferred to the Capitoline Museums. However, most valuable items were stolen and sacked years ago, which raises the question of what was actually inside the place prior to investigation.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of history and even some remains of ancient frescoes can still be found so it is worth to go and see it for yourself. Today, the pyramid is mainly used as a sanctuary for stray cats. The pyramid of Cestius is located at Piazza di Porta San Paolo.
Tickets and visiting
To visit the tomb, you need a guided tour. Tickets cost approximately €7.50, and the tour can be done on the third and fourth Saturdays and Sundays of each month. The Pyramid is easily reachable by metro station.