Pyramid of Cestius

From Academic Kids

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PiranesiPyramid.jpg
Pyramid of Cestius engraved by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

The Pyramid of Cestius (in Italian, Piramide di Caio Cestio) is an Egyptian-style pyramid in Rome, Italy near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery.

Built about 12 BC as a tomb for Caius Cestius, a member of the Septemviri epulonum, it is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble, 27 meters high and about 22 meters square, standing on a travertine foundation. In the interior is the burial chamber, 5.95 metres long, 4.10 wide and 4.80 high. On the east and west sides, about halfway up, is the inscription recording the names and titles of Cestius, and below, on the east side only, another which relates the circumstances of the erection of the monument (CIL vi.1374 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/Pyramid_of_Cestius/diebus.html)).

The peculiar conceit of a pyramid in Rome must be laid to the fact that Rome had conquered Egypt a few years before, in 30 BC, and the ancient culture of the new province became fashionable for a while; at any rate the tomb is unique among ancient Roman monuments, and not until modern funerary architecture did Rome see another pyramid within its walls.

Oddly, the Pyramid of Cestius is the 4th-tallest pyramid of the ancient Mediterranean world, being surpassed in height only by the three main Pyramids of Gizeh. A comparison of their shape reveals that the structural strength of concrete made it possible to build the Roman pyramid at a much sharper angle than those of Egypt; while that in turn allowed the Pyramid of Cestius to reach a much greater height for the amount of building material involved, the more pointed shape is not as successful esthetically as that of the Egyptian pyramids.

In the 3rd century the pyramid was included inside the Aurelian Walls, and the Middle Ages seems to have thought of it, erroneously, as the Tomb of either Romulus or Remus. In 1660, excavations were undertaken: two statue bases were found outside it dedicated to Cestius, and a opening was dug into the pyramid itself, when it was discovered that the burial chamber was once decorated with frescoes, only the scantest traces of which now remain.

External link

  • Sepulchrum Caii Cestii (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Sepulcrum_C.Cestii.html) in Platner's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome
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