Almost every ancient culture and civilization, be it Mesopotamian, Chinese, Egyptian, or Mayan, has left a legacy of towering ancient pyramids. Although we are most familiar with the pyramids in Egypt, specifically the Great Pyramid in Giza, it’s not the only one. A surprisingly global phenomenon, we can find several ancient pyramids around the world.
These majestic structures are truly masterpieces of engineering, mostly serving as tombs, and are great archaeological sites. Less weight on top and more on the bottom ensuring that they survived to modern times largely intact. The oldest of these ancient pyramids are still something of a mystery. Knowledge of how they were constructed have been lost to history, but these imposing structures still remain.
Pyramids From Around The World To Witness
1. Pyramid of Djoser – Saqqara, Egypt (2660 BCE)
While there are over a hundred pyramids in Egypt, the Pyramid of Djoser 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 Pyramid of Djoser, the world’s first step pyramid. Djoser was the first king of the Third Dynasty of Egypt. Prior to his reign, mastaba tombs were the customary norm for graves. There’s not much known of Djoser or his reign, he is believed to be the son of the last king of the Second Dynasty of Egypt, Khasekhemwy (c. 2680 BCE). The actual chambers of this tomb where the body of Djoser was laid to rest were dug beneath the base of the pyramid as a maze of tunnels with rooms off the corridors to discourage robbers. The underground passages of the Pyramid of Djoser are vast and have multiple stone vessels in various shapes and sizes.
Address: Al Giza Desert, Giza Governorate, Egypt
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, constructed in five layers. It is located along a central Avenue of the Dead which also connects it to a smaller Pyramid of the Moon. The material used to construct this awe-inspiring structure was hewed tezontle, a red coarse volcanic rock of the region. On the west side of the pyramid, there are 248 uneven stair steps that lead to the top of the structure. There’s little known about who built Teotihuacán, and the purpose of the Pyramid of the Sun remains largely a matter of speculation. Some archaeologists are of the opinion that there was once a temple atop the pyramid. In the early 1970s, archaeological exploration below the structure revealed a huge system of caves and tunnel chambers. and other tunnels were later found throughout the city.
Address: 55800 San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico
Height: 65 m
Volume: 1,184,828.3 cubic meters (41,841,817 cubic feet)
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, has 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. This massive structure is situated near the small town of Piste and you can get there by bus from the airports of Mérida and Cancun or other Mexican cities. A fascinating feature of this pyramid is that during the spring and autumn equinoxes, light and shadow form a series of triangles on the side of the north staircase. These shadows form the shape of a snake that appears to be moving. In 2015, researchers found that the popular pyramid most likely sits atop a 20m-deep cenote, which puts the structure at greater risk of collapsing.
Address: Tinum, Yucatan, Mexico
Height: 30 m
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. Among the structures and pyramids built under the reign of Jayavarman IV, this 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. Koh Ker is an offbeat destination that not many tourists are aware of. The temple complex was once ridden with landmines and has only recently been open to the public. There are several temple ruins to explore in Koh Ker making it the perfect destination for history buffs.
Builder: Jayavarman IV
Material: Brick, Sandstone, Laterite
Founded: 921 AD
Periods: Middle age
5. Pyramid of Khufu – Cairo, Egypt (2560 BCE)
When most people think of Egyptian pyramids, the 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 and still remains a popular site. It is also the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. This famous pyramid contains an estimated 2,300,000 blocks, some of which are upwards of 50 tons. Khufu’s pyramid is constructed of inner, rough-hewn, locally quarried core stones, which is what we can still see today. The interior chambers are mysteries in their own right. There is an unfinished subterranean chamber whose function is still unknown. There are also a number of so-called ‘air shafts’ that radiate out from the upper chambers. While you enter the pyramid, you have to crawl up a cramped ascending chamber that opens suddenly into a stunning Grand Gallery.
Address: Al Haram, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Giza Desert, Giza Governorate, Egypt
Height: 139 m
Materials: Limestone, Granite, Basalt, Mortar
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. This pyramid is composed of 1,100 dressed stone blocks and was typical of Goguryeo culture and was transmitted to the kingdom of Baekje’s burial practices. This tomb is considered to be the burial site of King Gwanggaeto or his son King Jangsu, both former Kings of Goguryeo.
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 BCE by King Shulgi, it was later reconstructed by King Nabonidus (Nebuchadnezzar II) in the 6th century BCE. It was once again rebuilt in the 20th century by Saddam Hussein. The Ziggurat supported the temple of the patron god of the city of Ur. It is also speculated that it was the place where the citizens of Ur would bring agricultural surplus. The most important part of the ziggurat at Ur was the Nanna temple at its top. This, however, did not survive. Some blue glazed bricks have been found that are suspected to be a part of the temple’s decoration. The structure has been restored a total of two times but has also experienced a significant amount of damage.
Address: Nasiriyah, Iraq
Height: over 30 m
Founded: started in circa 2050–2030 BCE, completed in circa 2030–1980 BC
Material: mud-brick with burnt brick facing
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. Nubian kings were deeply influenced by Egyptians and they constructed their own pyramids a thousand years after Egyptian burial methods had changed. All the Nubian pyramids have been recognised s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, there are twice as many Nubian pyramids still standing today as there are Egyptian ones.
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. Constructed in the 9th century by the Sailendra Dynasty, its traditional Javanese Buddhist architecture shows influences of Indian Gupta art. The temple fell to disuse around 100 years after its completion for reasons unknown. In 1814, The British Lieutenant Governor on Java, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles rediscovered the site. The temple consists of a series of open-air passageways that radiate around a central axis mundi (cosmic axis). Devotees circumambulate clockwise along walkways that lead to its uppermost level. At Borobudur, geometry, geomancy, and theology are strongly linked to the concept of enlightenment. There are a total of 504 statues of Buddha at the temple.
10. Tikal – Peten, Guatemala
This beautifully preserved Mayan city was at its peak between 200 to 900 AD. An important urban centre, 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. The Tikal ruins are the biggest attraction of Tikal National Park, which was established in the 1950s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Tikal reached its artistic peak between 600 and 800 after which it suffered significant artistic deterioration. The main structures of Tikal cover an area of 1 square mile. The highest Tikal monument is Pyramid IV (213 feet), which is the westernmost of the major ruins. It is also the site of the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent and is one of the tallest pre-Columbian structures in the Western Hemisphere.
Address: Tikal, Guatemala
Departments: North Acropolis, Tikal
Area: 576 km²
Region: Petén Basin
11. Bent Pyramid – Dahshur, Egypt (2600 BCE)
Just outside Cairo, another among the pyramids in Egypt is this unique pyramid which was constructed under Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu. While the lower part rises from the desert at a 54-degree inclination, the top section is constructed 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. This pyramid was an important step forward for pyramid construction in Egypt, it is considered a transitional pyramid more than a true pyramid. It is probably one of the most interesting pyramids around the world.
Address: Al Giza Desert, Giza Governorate, Egypt
12. Pyramid of Cestius – Rome, Italy (12 BCE)
This unique Roman pyramid was built as a tomb for the affluent magistrate Caius Cestius between 18 and 12 BC. It is made of white marble and brick and is 35-meter high. It is speculated that the Pyramid of Cestius was built in this style because of how popular Egyptian things were in Rome after Egypt was made a part of the Empire. Within the tomb, there are frescoes that show scenes from Roman mythology. An inscription on the exterior offers information about its construction and dedication. This pyramid-tomb was finally set into the Aurelian Walls to ensure that it remains preserved and pristine through the ages.
Address: Via Raffaele Persichetti, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
Height: 36 m
Opened: 12 BC
13. Sukuh – Java, Indonesia (15th century CE)
This temple in Java was built in 15-century and is located on the western slope of Mount Lawu on the border between Central and East Java provinces. A Javanese-Hindu temple, it has distinct themes including life before birth and sexual education. The main monument is a simple pyramid structure with reliefs and structures which include three tortoises with flattened shells, a male figure grasping his penis, and a 1.82 m tall phallus with four testes that represents penile incisions.
These Pyramids Around The World Continue To Attract Widespread Tourists
Despite being thousands of years old and subject to ruin and degradation, all of these pyramids remain major tourist attractions because of their cultural, architectural, and historical significance. They serve as reminders of how sophisticated architecture was brought to life so many centuries ago with barely any resources. Archaeologists and researchers continue to unravel the many mysteries these pyramids hold and what they say about ancient civilizations and cultures.
So which of these 13 pyramids around the world do you plan to visit next?
A specific count of pyramids across the world has not been done. However, Egypt, which is most renowned for its pyramids has 118 pyramids.
Egypt, Sudan, Mexico, Italy, Iraq, Peru and several others.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl is the biggest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the New World.
The Step Pyramid Of Djoser, a 4,700-year-old step pyramid in Egypt, built in the 27th century BC is the oldest pyramid on Earth.