For much of human history, the world’s great pyramids were the largest structures ever built.
The word ‘pyramid’ instantly transports us to Ancient Egypt and many of the largest pyramids in the world are in the land of the pharaohs. However, there are also ancient pyramids all over the world including in Mexico, Guatemala, Nigeria, Greece, China and Peru. There is even a pyramid in Rome. It was built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius around 15 BC and remains one of the Eternal City’s best preserved ancient buildings.
In fact, the country with the most pyramids is Sudan in Africa. The Nubian civilisation built hundreds of pyramids. Although many have been lost to demolition, shifting sands and the ravages of time, around 220 remain, more than in Egypt.
But where is the world’s largest pyramid?
El Castillo, Chichen Itza
Location: Yucatán, Mexico | Height: 29.8 metres | Base: 55.1 metres
Built by the Mayan civilization somewhere between the eighth and 12th centuries, the Mesoamerican step-pyramid is a masterpiece of astronomical and mathematical precision which has long fascinated – and baffled – experts. The most iconic emblem of the Mayan culture, the pyramid is dedicated to the serpent deity Kukulcan.
Pyramid of Menkaure
Location: Giza, Egypt | Height: 61 metres | Base: Approx. 108 metres
The smallest of the three Pyramids of Giza yet still one of the largest pyramids in the world, it was probably built around 2550 BC for the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Menkaure. During archaeological excavations in the 1830s, it was found to have a series of complex chambers and beautiful carvings.
Location: El, Petén, Guatemala | Height: 72 metres | Volume: 2.8m cubic metres
Poking out above the treeline deep in the northern Guatemalan jungle is La Danta, one of the ancient world’s most massive structures and a contender for largest pyramid in the world. It is part of El Mirador (‘the viewpoint’), the lost city of the Maya which flourished from the sixth century BC to the third century AD before finally being abandoned by the end of the ninth century.
The Bent Pyramid
Location: Dahshur, Egypt | Height: 104.8 metres | Base: 189.5 metres
There are conflicting suggestions as to why this Egyptian pyramid is so shaped. Either the steep build angle threatened it with collapse under its own weight and the angle was shallowed halfway up, or it represents a physical transition between step-sided and smooth-sided pyramids. What we do know is that it was built by Old Kingdom pharaoh Sneferu around 2600 BC and – even for such an early example – it remains one of the largest and tallest pyramids in the world.
Location: Las Vegas, USA | Height: 108 metres | Rooms: 4,407 | Floors: 30
Not all pyramids were built by ancient civilisations…! Not quite the biggest pyramid in the world but close, it was the tallest hotel in Las Vegas when it opened in 1993 until Treasure Island opened 11 days later. The hotel is – unsurprisingly – themed around ancient Egypt and the entrance is via a giant replica of the Sphinx.
Great Pyramid of Giza
Location: Giza, Egypt | Height: 138.5 metres | Base: 230.3 metres
The most famous but perhaps surprisingly to some not the largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one that has stayed mostly intact.
It was built around 2600 BC as a tomb for Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Khufu. It remains the tallest pyramid in the world, and for 3,800 years after it was finished, it was also the world’s tallest building.
Great Pyramid of Cholula
Location: Puebla, Mexico | Height: 55 metres | Base: 450 metres
The Great Pyramid of Cholula is a temple to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl in Mexico. It was built in stages between the third century BC and the ninth century AD by the Toltec-Chichimec people, who settled in modern-day Puebla in the twelfth century. The structure was named Tlachihualtepetl, or ‘made-by-hand mountain’.
With a base covering an area of almost 50 acres, Cholula isn’t close to being one of the tallest pyramids in the world but it is by far the biggest pyramid in the world by volume. According to Guinness World Records, it is the largest monument ever built and its volume is a staggering 4.45 million cubic metres, almost twice that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Fascinating & Inspiring
Mostly built for religious purposes and to protect, glorify and honour the dead, the largest pyramids in the world are complex, beautiful constructions that have withstood the tests of time and continue to inspire wonder and fascination for the tourists, archaeologists and historians who visit, explore and understand them.