Book in advance for a guided tour inside the Pyramid on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month.
The Pyramid of Cestius is one of the lesser known and more curious historical attractions in Rome. Located in the Aventinus region of Rome, the Pyramid is tall (measuring an impressive 36 metres) and narrow, with white marble cladding. It also lends its name to the Metro stop which faces it, Piramide.
It is estimated that the Pyramid was built between the years 18 and 12 BC. It was built for the Roman magistrate Gaius Cestius, also a member of one of Rome’s four main religious collegia, the Septemviri Epulonum, in order to serve as his tomb when he died. During the period of Roman history when the Pyramid was constructed, the Romans were fascinated by the richness of Egyptian design and culture since Egypt had only recently been absorbed into the Empire, so it is naturally assumed that the Pyramid is modelled on those of Egypt. However, its narrowness may indicate Nubian origins - indeed, Rome had at that time recently warred with Nubia.
In the third century AD the Pyramid was incorporated as a bastion into the Aurelian Walls which surrounded and defended the city. In the Middle Ages it fell into disrepair and became overgrown with moss and vines; its true history was forgotten until Pope Alexander II had the site excavated in 1660s and the inscriptions on the east and west flanks were revealed,which commemorate Cestius and name his sons.
The Pyramid of Cestius was one of the important sights for travellers to Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries. Two of its most famous admirers are the English Romantic poets John Keats and Percy B. Shelley, who not only wrote of the Pyramid but are also buried in the Protestant cemetery adjacent to it. The tomb inside the Pyramid was rediscovered during the 1660s excavations and, although it had long been plundered of treasures even by then, what remains of the original frescoes may still be seen. Visitors must book in advance should they want to enter the tomb.
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