Pyramid: Map


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A pyramid is a building where the outer surfaces are triangular and converge at a point. The base of a pyramid can be trilateral, quadrilateral, or any polygon shape, meaning that a pyramid has at least four faces (base plus at least three triangular faces). The five-face square pyramid is a common version.

A pyramid's design, with the majority of the weight closer to the ground, means that less material higher up on the pyramid will be pushing down from above: this distribution of weight allowed early civilizations to create stable monumental structures.

For thousands of years, the largest structures on Earth were pyramids: first the Red Pyramidmarker in the Dashur Necropolis and then the Great Pyramidmarker of Khufu, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still remaining and still the tallest pyramid of all. The largest pyramid ever built, by volume, is the Great Pyramid of Cholulamarker, in the Mexican state of Pueblamarker. This pyramid is still being excavated.

Ancient monuments

Pyramid-shaped structures were built by many ancient civilizations.


The Mesopotamians built the earliest pyramidal structures, called ziggurats. In ancient times these were brightly painted. Since they were constructed of mud-brick, little remains of them.


The most famous pyramids are the Egyptian pyramidsmarker — huge structures built of brick or stone, some of which are among the world's largest constructions. The age of the pyramids reached zenith at Giza in 2575-2150 B.C.There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. The Great Pyramid of Gizamarker is the largest in Egypt and one of the largest in the world. Until Lincoln Cathedralmarker was built in 1400 AD, it was the tallest building in the world. The base is over 52,600 square meters in area. Egypt has the most pyramids in the world, with Sudan coming in at a close second.

It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the only one of the seven to survive into modern times. The Ancient Egyptians covered their faces with polished white limestone, though most of the stones used for the purpose have fallen or have been removed and used to build the mosques of Cairo.


Nubian pyramidsmarker were constructed (roughly 220 of them) at three sites in Nubia to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroëmarker. The pyramids of Kush, also known as Nubian Pyramids, do not resemble the pyramids of Egypt.The Nubian pyramidsmarker were constructed at a steeper angle than Egyptian ones and were monuments to dead kings and queens.

Pyramids were still being built in Nubia up to AD 300.


Dotted throughout the landscape are remains of buildings that were described by ancient travelers as pyramids. They were first excavated by Americans and Germans in the early 1900s and the 1960s.

Pausanias, a Greek traveler in the second century AD described several of the structures as pyramids. One of these pyramids was located in Hellenikonmarker (Ελληνικό in Greek), a village near Argosmarker near the ancient ruins of Tiryns. The story surrounding the monument was that it was built as a polyandria, a common grave, for those soldiers who had fallen in the struggle for the throne of Argos back in the 14th Century BC He described the structure as something that resembled a pyramid with the decorations of Argolic shields, showing the military connection to it. Another pyramid that Pausanias saw on his journeys was at Kenchreai, another polyandria dedicated to the Argives and Spartans who lost their lives at the Battle of Hysiai in 669 BC. Unfortunately neither of these structures remain fully intact today to test how closely they resembled the pyramids of Egyptmarker nor is there any proof that they even resembled an Egyptian pyramid at all.

There are two surviving pyramid-like structures still available to study, one at Hellenikon and the other at Ligourion, a village near the ancient theatre Epidaurus. With these two pyramid’s base stones remaining, it is possible to determine that Grecian pyramids existed. These buildings were not constructed in the same manner as the pyramids in Egypt. The buildings at Hellenikon and Ligourion were no more than 70 meters tall and were surrounded by walls, with the base of the Helleniko pyramid being nine meters by 7 meters. The stone used to build the pyramids was limestone quarried locally and was cut to fit, not into freestanding blocks like the Great Pyramid of Gizamarker. The base of the structures also differed from the Egyptian pyramids as they were rectangular, not square. This simple construction shape made it very difficult to make the top of the building come together in a point. As such, it makes more sense that these structures could have been peaked by a roof or platform.

There are no remains or graves in or near the structures. Instead, the rooms that the walls housed were made to be locked from the inside. This coupled with the platform roof, means that one of the functions these structures could have served was as watchtowers. Another possibility for the buildings is that they are shrines to heroes and soldiers of ancient times, but the lock on the inside makes no sense for such a purpose.

The dating of these ‘pyramids’ has been made from the pot shards excavated from the floor and on the grounds. The latest dates available from scientific dating have been estimated around the 5th and 4th centuries. There are many researchers who have given dates to the structures that pre-date the pyramids at Gizamarker, but the method to obtain these dates was thermoluminescence of the stone. Normally this technique is used for dating pottery, but here researchers have used it to try to date stone flakes from the walls of the structures. This has created some debate about whether or not these ‘pyramids’ are actually older than Egyptmarker, which is part of the Black Athena controversy. The basis for their use of thermoluminescence in order to date these structures is a new method of collecting samples for testing. Scientists from laboratories hired out by the recent excavators of the site, The Academy of Athens, say that they can use the electrons trapped on the inner surface of the stones to positively identify the date that the stones were quarried and put together.

The issue with this method is that they date the pyramids with a margin of error of up to over 700 years. This method dated the Helleniko pyramid to 2730 BC with an error factor of plus or minus 720 years. It also dated the Ligourio pyramid to 2260 BC with an error of plus or minus 714 years. Though these initial dates are indicative of these structures being built before the pyramid complex at Giza, it also means that they could have been built well after Khufu’s Great Pyramid was erected. Some archaeologists, however, have indicated that these samples may have been very select in their choice of which stones to sample. Further excavations of the site at Helleniko reveal that it was constructed on a previously existing structure, giving a possibility that the new methods of dating may be a misinterpretation.

Along with these five structures there are 14 more pyramid-like buildings, or their remains, scattered throughout the rest of the country side of Greece. These sites do not get as much attention as the two at Helleniko and Ligourio as they are the only ones mentioned in surviving accounts of ancient travelers.


There are many square flat-topped mound tombs in China. The First Emperor of China (circa 221 BC, who unified the 7 pre-Imperial Kingdoms), also the First Emperor Qin, was buried under a large mound outside modern day Xi'anmarker. In the following centuries about a dozen more Han Dynasty royals were also buried under flat-topped pyramidal earthworks.


A number of Mesoamerican cultures also built pyramid-shaped structures. Mesoamerican pyramids were usually stepped, with temples on top, more similar to the Mesopotamian ziggurat than the Egyptian pyramid.

The largest pyramid by volume is the Great Pyramid of Cholulamarker, in the Mexicanmarker state of Pueblamarker. This pyramid is considered the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world, and is still being excavated. The third largest pyramid in the world, the Pyramid of the Sunmarker, is also located in Mexicomarker. There is an unusual pyramid with a circular plan at the site of Cuicuilcomarker, now inside Mexico Citymarker and mostly covered with lava from an ancient eruption of Xictli. Pyramids in Mexico were often used as places of human sacrifice.

North America

Many mound-building societies of ancient North America built large pyramidal earth structures known as platform mounds. Among the largest and best-known of these structures is Monk's Moundmarker at the site of Cahokiamarker, which has a base larger than that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. While the North American mounds' precise function is not known, they are believed to have played a central role in the mound-building people's religious life.

Roman Empire

The 27-metre-high Pyramid of Cestiusmarker was built by the end of the first century BC and still exists today, close to the Porta San Paolo. Another one, named Meta Romuli, standing in the Ager Vaticanus (today's Borgomarker), was destroyed at the end of the 15th century.

There is also a Roman era pyramid built in Faliconmarker, France. There were many more pyramids built in France in this period.

Medieval Europe

Pyramids have occasionally been used in Christian architecture of the feudal era, e.g. as the tower of Oviedomarker's Gothic Cathedral of San Salvadormarker. In some cases this leads to speculations on masonic or other symbolical intentions.


Many giant granite temple pyramids were made in South India during the Chola Empire, many of which are still in religious use today. Examples of such pyramid temples include Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavurmarker, the Temple of Gangaikondacholapurammarker and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasurammarker. However the largest temple pyramid in the area is Sri Rangammarker in Srirangam, Tamil Nadumarker. The Brihadisvara Temple was declared by UNESCOmarker as a World Heritage Site in 1987; the Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram were added as extensions to the site in 2004.

Modern pyramids

Examples of modern pyramids are:


Image:Stockport Pyramid.jpg|Stockport Pyramid in Stockportmarker, United KingdommarkerImage:Walter Pyramid.jpg|The Walter Pyramidmarker in Long Beach, CaliforniamarkerImage:Pyramid.JPG|The Pyramid Arenamarker in Memphis, TennesseemarkerImage:Luxor28.jpg|Luxor Hotelmarker in Las Vegas, NevadamarkerImage:MetCemBrunswigPyramid1.jpg|Metairie Cemetery, New OrleansmarkerImage:Summum Pyramid SE 20030406.jpg|The Summum Pyramidmarker in Salt Lake Citymarker, UtahmarkerImage:SanFrancisco DownTown.jpg|Transamerica PyramidmarkerImage:P1260138.JPG|Zafer Plaza shopping center in Bursamarker, Turkeymarker

See also

  • Pyramid for the pyramid as a 3-dimensional shape in geometry.
  • Pyramid for other uses of the word pyramid.



  • Patricia Blackwell Gary and Richard Talcott, "Stargazing in Ancient Egypt," Astronomy, June 2006, pp. 62–67.
  • Fagan, Garrett. "Archaeological Fantasies." RoutledgeFalmer. 2006

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