Almost every ancient culture and civilization, be it Mesopotamian, Chinese, Egyptian, or Mayan, has left a legacy of towering pyramids. A surprisingly global phenomenon, we can find pyramids around the world.
These majestic structures are truly masterpieces of engineering. Less weight on top and more on the bottom ensuring that they survived to modern times largely intact. The oldest of these pyramids are still something of a mystery. Knowledge of how they were constructed have been lost to history, but these imposing structures still remain.
1. Pyramid of Djoser – Saqqara, Egypt (2660 BCE)
While there are over a hundred pyramids in Egypt, this is the oldest. Built by the Pharaoh Djoser (Zoser), this step pyramid predates those at Giza by more than a century. Before this, pharaohs’ tombs were flat-topped mounds. It was Djoser’s chief architect, Imhotep, who placed these mounds one-on-top-of-the-other, creating the world’s first step pyramid.
2. Pyramid of the Sun – Teotihuacan, Mexico (100 CE)
The central Mexican city of Teotihuacan is an architectural marvel, filled with intricate structures and massive step pyramids. The most impressive of these is the 240-foot-tall Pyramid of the Sun, built in five layers. It is located along a central Avenue of the Dead which also connects it to a smaller Pyramid of the Moon.
3. El Castillo – Yucatan, Mexico (1000 CE)
One of the most spectacular Mayan temples, the 98-foot-tall Chichen Itza pyramid nicknamed El Castillo, or the Temple of Kukulcan, hs special astronomical significance. Each of its faces has 91 steps, which, when combined with the shared step at the top, make 365 steps, one for each day of the year.
4. Prang Temple – Koh Ker, Cambodia (940 CE)
Once the ancient capital of Cambodia, Koh Ker was home to almost 100 temples, most of which are still standing. Built under the reign of Jayavarman IV, the seven‑tiered and 118-foot-tall pyramid is truly unparalleled. However, very few of its beautiful sculptures are left at the site, having either been looted over the years, or placed in museums by the government.
5. Pyramid of Khufu – Cairo, Egypt (2560 BCE)
When most people think of pyramids, the three towering Pyramids of Giza probably come to mind. Of the three, it is the pyramid built for Pharoah Khufu, known as the Great Pyramid, that was, for millennia the largest manmade structure in the world. It is also the only remaining wonder of the ancient world.
6. Tomb of the General – Ji’an, China (400 CE)
The burial place of King Jangsu, the 20th ruler of Goguryeo. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, stretching from Mongolia to Chungju. This 43-foot-tall “Pyramid of the East” is located in the former capital of Goguryeo, modern-day Ji’an in China.
7. Ziggurat of Ur – Iraq (2000 BCE)
Located in modern-day Iraq, the ziggurat at the ancient city of Ur is one of the most well-preserved monuments of the Sumerians. First constructed in the 21st century BC by King Shulgi, it was later reconstructed by King Nabonidus (Nebuchadnezzar II) in the 6th century BC. It was once again rebuilt in the 20th century by Saddam Hussein.
8. Tomb of Kashta – Meroe, Sudan (500 BCE)
Once known as Nubia, Sudan was governed by the Egyptian pharaohs of old. The Nubian pyramids are smaller and more narrowly tapered. There are about 40 in total at Meroe, which was also a major city of the Kushite kingdom.
9. Borobudur Temple – Java, Indonesia (800 CE)
Considered the world’s largest Buddhist temple, the nine stacked platforms of the Borobudur Temple may not be considered a traditional pyramid, but it is truly majestic. Built in the 9th century by the Sailendra Dynasty, its traditional Javanese Buddhist architecture shows influences of Indian Gupta art.
10. Tikal – Peten, Guatemala
This beautifully preserved Mayan city was at its peak between 200 to 900 AD. An important urban center, it has six pyramidal temples. The tallest of these at 230 feet, is Tikal IV, topped by the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent. Tikal lay forgotten in the rainforest until it was rediscovered by European explorers in the 1850s.
11. Bent Pyramid – Dahshur, Egypt (2600 BCE)
Just outside Cairo, this unique pyramid was built under Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu. While the lower part rises from the desert at a 54-degree inclination, the top section is built at a shallower angle of 43 degrees. This leads to the obvious ‘bent’ appearance. Archaeologists believe that it was a transition between the earlier step pyramids to the later smooth-sided ones. It is also the only Egyptian pyramid to retain its original polished limestone outer casing.
So which of these 11 pyramids around the world do you plan to visit next?