Did you know there is a Rome pyramid in the Eternal City?
Lots of people ask how such a distinctively Egyptian monument came to be in Rome.
This page is here to answer this question and much more!
Yes, there is an ancient Roman pyramid in the Eternal City, but why was it built, and who by?
Keep reading for everything you could possibly want to know about this unusual monument, including:
The simple answer to this question is 'a tomb', but like most things in the Eternal City, the full answer is more complicated!
The pyramid is officially know as the Pyramid of Caius Cestius (Piramide Cestia or Piramide di Caio Cestio in Italian) because it was constructed to house the remains of Caius Cestius Epulo.
More about him below!
As was customary in the ancient city, tombs including the pyramid were placed outside the city walls.
As Rome grew rapidly in the imperial period the pyramid slowly became surrounded by buildings.
In the third century, emperor Aurelian ordered the construction of a new set of walls, known as the Aurelian Walls, which delineated Rome's official boundaries at that time.
It was decided that the Pyramid of Cestius would be incorporated directly into the new Aurelian Walls in a bid to save money.
Ironically, evidence from the time states that it cost more to do this compared to just building a regular wall around the pyramid, due to its unique and difficult-to-work-with shape.
The good thing about this decision is that it ensured the Pyramid of Cestius remained largely intact over the centuries due to its importance in defending Rome.
This made it one of the city's best preserved buildings from ancient times.
Since that time the tomb-come-fortification has constantly been admired by visitors to the Eternal City, and in recent years has become a popular tourist site.
While the Pyramid of Cesitus may now be the only pyramid in the city, this wasn't the case in ancient Rome.
Until the 15th century there was another very similar pyramid in Rome, constructed around the same time as Cestius'.
It stood close to the Vatican, where you will now find the Via della Conciliazione.
It was known as the Meta Romuli because it was mistakenly identified at the time as the tomb of the founder of Rome, Romulus.
As the smaller pyramid of the two it was assumed to be the burial place of Romulu's twin brother Remus so it was given the name Meta Remi.
The only remaining visible material from that pyramid are the white marble slabs which covered its facade and surrounded its square base.
These were repurposed as the stairs in front of St Peter's Basilica.
Additional accounts also state there other pyramids in Rome, including two pyramids at the Flaminian Gate, where you will now find the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto in Piazza del Popolo.
Caius Cestius Epulo (sometimes written as Gaius Cestius Epulo) was a prominent ancient Roman magistrate and priest who lived in the first century BCE.
During this period the Romans were fascinated with all things Egyptian and the ancient Egyptian monuments.
Just a few years prior to the construction of the Pyramid of Cestius, Egypt had been assimilated as a province of the Roman empire following Augustus' (Rome's first emperor) defeat of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.
Augustus took direct personal possession of the whole country and ordered the transportation of various Egyptian relics, landmarks and monuments to Rome.
This included many obelisks, tall sculptural monuments with distinctive pointed tops resembling pyramids.
During this time the emperor also ordered various military expeditions to the areas bordering Egypt to secure the new frontier.
One of the these expeditions was to the kingdom of Meroë in Nubia in 23 BCE (modern day southern Egypt/northern Sudan.)
In Meroë there are countless pyramids, most of which are in the same style as the Pyramid of Cestius.
This suggests that Gaius Cestius Epulo was present during the expedition and took inspiration for his tomb from these ancient structures, rather than the famous pyramids of Giza in ancient Egypt.
There is no evidence to confirm this theory, but it would explain why priest Cestius styled his pyramid the way he did!
The construction of the Pyramid of Cestius took three hundred and thirty days and it is documented, like Egyptian pyramids, as being surrounded by ornate decorations including bronze statues.
Following the disintegration of the Roman empire and the depopulation of Rome that followed, the history of the Pyramid of Cestius was lost to time.
During the late Middle Ages, pope Alexander VI ordered the excavation of the area around the pyramid and the clearing of vegetation that had obscured the inscriptions.
In doing this, the myth that the pyramid was the tomb of Remus was dispelled.
Skipping forward to the age of the Grand Tour, the pyramid featured prominently on the itineraries of European travelers due to its location next to the graves of prominent figures in the neighbouring non-Catholic cemetery.
In modern times the Pyramid of Cestius has become a popular tourist attraction, particularly following conservation works which formally ended in 2016.
This conservation project included the restoration of the white marble façade of the pyramid, along with the interior spaces.
The Pyramid of Cestius is located on the piazza/roundabout that connects Via Marmorata and Via Raffaele Persichetti with Via Ostiense and Viale della Piramide Cestia.
At this intersection you'll also find Porta San Paolo, a well preserved ancient Roman gatehouse of the Aurelian Wall which is home to the Museum of the Ostian Way.
Porta San Paolo gives its name to the train station on the opposite side of the piazza from the gatehouse.
Adjoining the train station you'll find the Piramide metro station (line B) from which you can connect to Termini main station and other major ancient sites such as the Colosseum and Circus Maximus within a few minutes.
Immediately behind the Pyramid of Cestius (if you are in the piazza) is the Protestant Cemetery, also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery.
This cemetery is home to the graves of Goethe and Keats, as well as a number of other famous figures from history, and a number of stray cats who are looked after in a sanctuary.
You can see the exterior of the Cestius pyramid for free very easily, simply follow Google Maps with your destination set as the Piramide train station on Metro Line B.
Cross the road from the metro station to get an up close and quick view of Rome’s pyramid.
Its also possible to walk to the Pyramid of Cestius from Rome's main historical center.
You should allow between 45-60 minutes each way for the journey on foot depending on where you start.
However, for a better view and all around more peaceful experience, head to the Protestant Cemetery, whose entrance is on Via Caio Cestio.
Once inside, bear left and follow the path that skirts the edge of the cemetery which will lead you to an open area with umbrella pines and a grassy lawn.
Sit on one of the benches (or the grass if its dry!) and enjoy a view of the Rome pyramid uninterrupted by traffic and in the company of the cemetery’s resident cats.
You can even join a tour that takes you via the cemetery as part of its route!
Occasionally it’s also possible to visit the inside of the Rome pyramid.
It is not open regularly or consistently but if you can find a way to do this, I thoroughly recommend doing so!
The most direct way to visit the inside of the Pyramid of Cestius is to contact Coop Culture, however, at the time of this page's last update, regular tours of the pyramid's interior are not currently available.
Occasional limited-time openings have happened recently, so it's always worth checking!
I was lucky enough to visit the interior of the Cestius pyramid in 2019.
Here's an overview of what there is to see inside:
The entrance to the inner chambers of the pyramid are located on the north side, facing the Protestant cemetery.
You'll venture down a narrow corridor (I don't recommend this if you suffer from claustrophobia!), and at the end you'll find a small burial chamber where the remains of priest Caius Cestius were kept in antiquity.
Gaius Cestius Epulo's remains are now long gone however.
The first violation of the tomb likely occurred when marauding tribes and invaders sacked Rome in the 4th century CE, or in the middle ages when treasure hunters and grave robbers broke into the tomb.
While the outside of the Pyramid is undoubtably Egyptian or Nubian in style, the inside is very Roman.
The walls are lined with detailed frescoes painted in rich colours, displaying nymphs and winged Victories.
If you're looking for one of the best breakfast spots in Rome, look no further!
Here you'll find top quality pastries, coffee and of course, Roman maritozzi.
Note that there is no indoor seating so it's a stand-at-the-bar kind of place in the winter, but during the rest of the year you can grab a seat outside.
Address: Viale Aventino, 91/93
Open daily: Monday-Saturday 7:30-21:00 | Sunday 8:00-20:00
This is my go-to brunch place in Rome.
The international team that runs Marigold are always reinventing their menu to offer classics alongside more modern creations.
You'll find they have a fantastic bar offering a range of natural wines, artisan coffees and curated cocktails.
Address: Via Giovanni da Empoli, 37
Open Wednesday-Sunday 9:00-15:00
I wouldn't normally recommend a big brand name like Eataly but their store in Ostiense, just a 10 minute walk from the Pyramid of Cestius, is a flagship store.
As such this is your one-stop spot for eating and drinking the best Italian produce.
Of course there is also their huge market hall spread across multiple floors if you have space in your suitcase for some take-home treats!
Eataly is well connected to the rest of Rome.
Address: Piazzale 12 Ottobre 1492
Open daily 9:00-00:00