Most people thinking of ancient pyramids jump straight to ancient Egypt. While that’s not wrong, it’s not necessarily right either. In fact, there are ancient pyramids all around the world, from a number of different cultures and civilisations and representing many different architectural styles and approaches.
It’s not surprising to learn therefore that the list of world pyramids really does span the globe. From the famous pyramids of Egypt to Mesoamerican pyramids, Chinese tomb pyramids, South American step pyramids, Mesopotamian ziggurats, North American mound pyramids and even Roman ceremonial pyramids, these ancient structures pop up across the globe right through the centuries in cultures who often have no connection to one-another.
While some examples of the pyramids of the world are accepted by all to be pyramids in the classic sense, others are the subject of debate. It has even been claimed that the biggest pyramids of all are found in Bosnia, though much discussion still rages about that particular issue…
So while those looking to visit pyramids may want to start with Egypt’s famous ancient pyramids, there’s also a wealth of other countries to consider. Check out our ancient pyramids map above and the list of pyramids of the world below and click on each entry for more information on each pyramid.
Admittedly less impressive than the nearby ancient pyramids of Giza, the Abusir Pyramids belonged to the Fifth Dynasty pharaohs and, to their advantage, are far quieter to visit.
The Abusir Pyramids, near Cairo in Egypt are fourteen Ancient Egyptian pyramids. These were built by the pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty, including those of Sahure, Neferirkare and Nyuserre Ini and, like Saqqara’s pyramids, formed part of the ancient city of Memphis.
One or two of the Abusir Pyramids are relatively well preserved, notably that of Nyuserre Ini. However, overall Abusir’s pyramids are not as impressive, nor as large, as those in Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur. This is in part due to the inferior quality of the construction and stones used. Having said this, Abusir is a much quieter and less tourist-targeted site, which can be an advantage.
The ancient Khmer empire built some astounding structures and nestled among the wider Angkor site are a number of step pyramids - notably the late 9th / early 10th century Phnom Bakheng temple and the Baksei Chamkrong temple.
Angkor Wat is an enormous 12th century temple complex in Cambodia and the best preserved of its kind.
Incredibly grand and ornately decorated, Angkor Wat’s sand-coloured buildings rise up to form five towers, representing the home of the Hindu deities. Friezes and sculptures are found throughout, depicting both day-to-day life from the time it was built and religious events.
Whilst the complex in Angkor is believed to have been founded circa 980 AD by Yasovarman I, king of the Khmer Dynasty, Angkor Wat itself is thought to date back to the twelfth century.
It was the Khmer king Suryavarman II who built Angkor Wat between 1113 and 1150. He dedicated it to the Hindu deity Vishnu and there are images of Suryavarman as Vishnu throughout Angkor Wat in the form of sculptures. It is also thought that Angkor Wat was the site of Suryavarman’s tomb.
Invaded by Thai raiders in 1431, Angkor and its temple then laid undiscovered until the 19th century.
Today Angkor Wat is one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist sites. There is an incredible amount to see and it’s a good (although relatively expensive) idea to get a licensed tour guide.
Angkor Wat has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.
One of several remarkable Hindu temples built by the leaders of the Chola Empire, the Brihadisvara temple has a quite spectacular central pyramid structure.
The Brihadisvara Temple of Tanjore (also spelt Thanjavur) in India is one of several spectacular Hindu temples built by the leaders of the Chola Empire and inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Built from 1003 to 1010 during the reign of Rajaraja I, the Brihadisvara Temple was constructed in honour of the Hindu deity Shiva (Siva). It is an incredibly ornate and grand mostly granite structure, with seemingly endless sculptures and carvings chronicling this deity’s life as well as that of other holy figures.
Dominated by several adobe pyramids made of sand and clay, Cahuachi is an ancient site of the Nazca civilization in Peru and perhaps mark some of the lesser-known pyramids of the world.
Cahuachi is believed to have been a pilgrimage site of the Nazca people. Still an active archeological site, Cahuachi is dominated by several adobe pyramids made of sand and clay as well as having a graveyard.
Little is known about Cahuachi, but as it overlooked the Nazca Lines, it is thought to have been a ceremonial site. Another site at Cahuachi is known as Estaquería, which archeologists believed was used for mummification purposes. A general Nazca tour which includes Cahuachi and other sites takes approximately 3 hours.
An Aztec archaeological site near Toluca in Mexico, Calixtlahuaca is known for its vast pyramid-like temples.
Calixtlahuaca near Toluca in Mexico is a well-preserved Aztec archaeological site which was once a thriving city originally home to the Matlatzinca people – the people of the Toluca Valley. The Calixtlahuaca site has a series of fascinating and impressive structures, not least of which are its vast pyramid-like temples.
Chacchoben in Mexico is a Maya archaeological and includes some impressive ancient pyramid temples.
Chacchoben is a Maya site in Mexico housing some impressive pyramid temples.
The exact history of Chacchoben is unclear. Most sources date its pyramids to around 700AD (some say 300AD), although the Mayas are said to have been present at Chacchoben long before this, perhaps as early as 200BC.
Chacchoben is quite a popular tourist site, with several tour companies operating here.
Boasting some of the best ancient pyramids from the Maya period and a fascinating entry on any list of world pyramids, Cobá is an important and vast Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region.
Cobá in Quintana Roo in Mexico houses the remains of a once vast city that developed in around 632 AD and peaked between 800 and 1100 AD. Whilst it is thought that Cobá originally spanned a massive 60 square kilometres, the current archaeological site has yet to uncover all its remains. What can be viewed is spread into four sections, named Grupo Cobá, Chumuc Mul, Macanxoc and Nohoch Mul.
Grupo Cobá contains a large holy pyramid called the Temple of the Church, translated as “La Iglesia”. Nearby, along a worn path is a playing field used to play ball games, signposted as “juego de pelota”.
The most impressive site at Cobá is its Great Pyramid, also known as the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. Rising to a height of 138 feet, the Great Pyramid is the second tallest of all Maya pyramids in the region after Estructura II at Calakmul. Climbing the steep stairs of this pyramid can be daunting, but the views are great.
The UNESCO-listed site of Copan in Honduras was an important Maya city, and contains a number of truly impressive step pyramids.
Copan (spelt Copán), near the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras is an archaeological site housing the ruins of a major Maya settlement which was probably the most influential city in the south eastern area occupied by this civilisation.
Copan is thought to have been inhabited as early as 2000 BC, despite the fact that there is sparse evidence to this effect. It was certainly at its peak between 300 AD and 900 AD.
In the eighth century AD, Copan experienced a significant military defeat when its leader was beheaded by the rulers of the city of Quirigua in what is now Guatemala. It was abandoned in the tenth century, probably due to the land becoming unsuitable for crop growing.
The cultural, social and ceremonial significance of Copan has been confirmed by UNESCO, who listed it as a World Heritage site in 1980. Amongst other things, UNESCO cites the fact that Copan was the site of great advances in astronomy and mathematics.
Today, visitors to Copan can see its many incredible structures, which also rank highly amongst the reasons for its UNESCO status. Containing five main plazas, an acropolis, numerous temples, terraces, pyramids and dwellings, one cannot fail to be impressed by Copan. Incredible glyphs adorn its staircases, structures, temples and altars, with depictions of animals and human faces.
There is a nearby sculpture museum which explores the Maya culture and artwork.
Among the most famous ancient pyramids of the world are those at Dahshur in Egypt, home to the famous ‘Bent Pyramid’ and the Red Pyramid of Sneferu.
Dahshur was once home to eleven Ancient Egyptian pyramids, of which few have survived. However, for those wishing to view the Egypt’s pyramids in peace and quiet, Dahshur is the place to go.
Unlike the more popular Giza and Saqqara, Dahshur has not become a tourist hotspot, despite its ancient attractions, including the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid.
Built by the pharaoh Sneferu (reign circa 2613 BC-2589 BC), founder of the Fourth Dynasty and father of Khufu, the Red Pyramid is one of Dahshur's most famous residents and the second oldest pyramid ever built. In fact, it is thought that this was where Sneferu himself was buried.
Dahshur is also the place to find the ‘Bent Pyramid’, so called due to its unusual change of angle. Also built by Sneferu, the Bent Pyramid is atypical as it has two entrances.
Visitors to Dahshur can tour the Red Pyramid and the more recently opened Bent Pyramid as well.
Unsurprisingly, the Black Pyramid, also at Dahshur cannot be toured. In fact, this pyramid, built for the pharaoh Amenemhat III (reign circa 1831 BC-1786 BC) and originally 266 feet high, has deteriorated badly due to the unstable ground on which it sits and the mud brick used in its construction.
A lesser known entry on the list of world pyramids, Dos Pilas was a major Maya city. The largest surviving structure is an impressive pyramid which rises 20m, while a number of other ancient pyramids survive at the site.
Dos Pilas in northern Guatemala was an ancient capital city of the Maya civilisation. Twinned with nearby Aguateca, its powerful dynasty is thought to have derived from that of Tikal and to have thrived in the seventh and eighth centuries AD. However, it was famously abandoned in the late eighth century amidst savage warfare and its important citizens are believed to have fled to Aguateca.
Today, Dos Pilas contains a reasonable set of ruins including a staircase which has carvings chronicling important historical events of the time, several pyramids, temples and a central plaza.
The vast main pyramid at Ek Balam is over 30m high, making it a remarkable example of Maya engineering and one of the most impressive pyramids in the world.
Ek Balam or Ek’ Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula with some impressive ruins. Translated either as Black Jaguar or Star Jaguar, Ek Balam is surrounded by a low, stone wall, an unusual feature in Mayan cities. Within this area are several restored pyramids and large temples as well as a ball court.
Ek Balam also features five sacbe, white roads or causeways, leading from the central area. El Torre, the tower, is one of the largest of Mayan buildings. The site’s vast main pyramid rises to a height of almost 100 feet, making it a remarkable example of Maya engineering.
El Brujo is an early Chimu archaeological site in Peru. The most fascinating remains at the site are its three “huacas” or sacred pyramid temples.
El Brujo in Peru was a Moche (early Chimu) settlement inhabited between 100 and 700 AD. Now an archaeological site, the main features of El Brjuo are its three “huacas” or sacred pyramid temples.
The best preserved of El Brujo’s trio of temples, thought to have been sites of ceremonial significance, is Huaca Cao Viejo (also known as Huaca Blanca) . It is adorned with dramatic, colourful friezes showing various scenes ranging from everyday activities such as fishing to depictions of violence and particularly of human sacrifice. These friezes have led archaeologists to believe that El Brjuo was probably the site of the torture and execution of prisoners.
In 2004, archaeologists found the mummified hand of a woman thought to have been a leader of the Moche, a particularly interesting find given that the Moche were a male-dominated society. The advantage of El Brujo is that it is quieter than other, more popular archaeological sites in Peru.
An awe inspiring collection of ancient pyramids can be seen at El Tajin in Mexico, particularly the Pyramid of the Niches, an incredibly impressive six-stepped pyramid which would once have been crowned with a temple.
El Tajin in the state of Veracruz in Mexico is an impressive archaeological site which originally formed the capital city of the Totonac state. In fact, the name “Tajin” refers to the Totonac deity of thunder, lighting and rain. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open to the public, although much of it is yet to be excavated.
El Tajin was founded following the abandonment of the city of Teotihuacan. Built and inhabited from 800AD to 1200 AD, El Tajin was a thriving city of major ceremonial importance, a fact illustrated by the numerous Mesoamerican pyramids and other ceremonial structures still seen there today.
Despite the fact that it is thought to have been greatly damaged and subsequently abandoned following an attack by the Chichimecs in the thirteenth century, much of El Tajin is extremely well-preserved offering a great many things to see. Amongst the most famous attractions at El Tajin is the Pyramid of the Niches, an incredibly impressive six-stepped pyramid which would once have been crowned with a temple. Stone reliefs and friezes around the site offer an insight into the lives of those who lived in El Tajin.
A particular pastime for which the city was renowned in its time was ball games, as depicted in numerous reliefs. In an ominous twist, the reliefs also seem to show that these ball games were related to human sacrifices which took place at El Tajin.
El Tajin has an interesting, albeit small museum with explanations in English, Spanish and also – fittingly – in the Totonac language. A visit to the whole site lasts around 2 hours.
Though not an ancient pyramid in the classic sense, some argue that American pre-colonial burial mounds such as the Emerald Mound and Monks Mound should be classified as step pyramids and included in lists of pyramids of the world.
The Emerald Mound is one of a number of ancient mound sites built by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Several similar sites have been found within Mississippi and in other areas of the United States.
One of the largest mounds in the US, the Emerald Mound site was likely constructed between 1250AD and 1600AD during the Mississippian culture period. It is thought that the site was used for ceremonial purposes and as a meeting place for local populations. The site was later used by descendents of the peoples of the Mississippian culture, the Natchez, and became a major center of their culture.
After the arrival of Europeans to the area, the Emerald Mound site was abandoned and erosion has diminished much of what would have once been seen at the Emerald Mound site. However, stabalization work by the US National Park Service has helped to restore and preserve the structure.
A number of excavations of the site have taken place since the 19th century, revealing pottery, tools and the remains of animals.
Displays at the Emerald Mound site provide information on the history of the site and give a glimpse into the lives and culture of those who built and used the Emerald Mound.
Further information on the site can be found at the Mount Locust visitor center in the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Probably the most famous ancient pyramids in the world, Giza is home to Ancient Egypt’s Great Pyramid, the famous Sphinx and two other amazing pyramids.
Giza or ‘Al Giza’ is a tourist hotspot and the site of some of Ancient Egypt’s most famous landmarks, including the largest pyramid on Earth.
Giza is home to the pyramids of kings Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure. The largest pyramid in Giza, and in the world, belongs to the second king of the Fourth Dynasty, Khufu or “Cheop”.
Khufu’s pyramid is Giza’s oldest and, at its great size of 145 metres, became known as “The Great Pyramid”. In fact, Khufu’s pyramid was once the tallest structure in the world as well as being one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The second largest pyramid in Giza belongs to Khufu’s son and fourth king of the Fourth Dynasty, Khafra (or Khephren). In fact, the elevation on which Khafra’s pyramid is built is deceptive, making it appear larger that his father’s.
The smallest of these three kings’ pyramids belongs to the sixth king of the Fourth Dynasty, Menkaure and is one tenth the size of Khafre’s.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Giza is also where one finds the Great Sphinx. Estimated to date back to 2528–2520 BC, some Egyptologists believe that this majestic half man, half lion is modeled on Khafra.
Several other tombs and Queens’ pyramids pepper Giza’s landscape, some of which are open to the public, most notably, the tomb of Seshem-nefer IV. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Egypt.
Built by Amenemhat III around 1840BC, the Hawara Pyramid in Egypt has largely been eroded by time and is but a shadow of its former glory.
The Hawara Pyramid was erected by the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh, Amenemhat III, ruler of Ancient Egypt from around 1860 BC to 1814 BC and who also built the Black Pyramid at Dahshur.
Once a formidable structure which was known as the “Labyrinth” for its elaborate security measures, the Hawara Pyramid was not built of stone, but rather mud-brick.
Today, having been robbed and eroded by time, the Hawara Pyramid is a shadow of its former grandeur and is no longer flanked by Amenemhat III’s burial temple, but is still clearly visible. The pyramid tomb of his daughter, Neferuptah, is also found nearby, 2 km south of her father’s Hawara Pyramid.
A remarkable UNESCO listed pre-Columbian site in Mexico, Monte Alban contains a number of large and impressive pyramids, probably built by the Zapotecs.
Monte Alban in Oaxaca in Mexico is an impressive ancient site created by an incredible feat which involved carving a flat space out of a mountain rising to an elevation of over 1,600 feet above the valley below it.
Monte Alban was inhabited for approximately 1,500 years by a succession of civilisations, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs and, at its peak, had a population of around 25,000 people.
The earliest inhabitants of Monte Alban were the Olmecs, who are credited with the over 140 carved stones known as the monument of Los Danzantes, depicting mutilated figures. There has been much debate over what these figures represent. ‘Los Danzantes’ means dancers, but it has since been posited that these were actually war prisoners.
However, whilst Olmec contributions remain, most of the structures found at Monte Alban today were built by the Zapotecs, who are thought to have arrived between 800 BC and 500 BC. Construction continued over the centuries and was later influenced by the culture of Teotihuacan.
Monte Alban is characterised by over 2,200 terraces as well as numerous pyramid structures, large staircases, ornate palaces, elaborate tombs and even a ball court known as Juego de Pelota, mostly arranged on its “Grand Plaza”. The ball court is very well-preserved, made up of two facing stepped platforms with the playing field in the centre. The ball games played were ritualistic and often ended in the death of the losers.
In approximately 800 AD, the Zapotecs were threatened by the Mixtecs and fortified Monte Alban before being driven out. The Mixtecs took over the site and, in around 1400 AD, started burying their leaders in the Zapotec tombs. Whilst many of these ornately decorated tombs were looted, vast riches were found in one particular tomb – Tomb 7 – which can now been seen at Museo Regional de Oaxaca. Some tombs are open to visitors, although this is sporadic.
Today, Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small on-site museum showing some of the finds from excavations of Monte Alban. Monte Alban features as one of our Top Tourist Attractions in Mexico.
Thought to have been of religious and cosmic significance, the 23m, five-level Piramide de Cuicuilco is believed to be one of Mexico’s oldest surviving archaeological sites.
Cuicuilco is an ancient archeological site and museum next to Mexico City’s Lake Texcoco which includes the striking Piramide de Cuicuilco.
Dating back to the Mesoamerican era perhaps as far as 800 BC, Cuicuilco is thought to be one of Mexico’s oldest sites. At its peak, Cuicuilco is believed to have had a population of between 20,000 and 40,000 people.
Cuicuilco is comprised of numerous ruins, including a 23 metre high, five-level, circular pyramid (the Piramide de Cuicuilco) thought to be of religious and cosmic significance. Whilst originally built as a farming community, Cuicuilco later developed into a ceremonial city, maybe even the predecessor of Teotihuacan, as evidenced by its relatively well-preserved remains, which include both residential and religious structures.
The ruins of an old water drainage system are also present, demonstrating the relative sophistication of Cuicuilco’s inhabitants.
Cuicuilco was finally abandoned sometime between 150 and 200 AD, after the eruption of the nearby Xitle volcano. Some archaeologists think that the residents of Cuicuilco and other surrounding areas all later moved to Teotihuacan.
Polonnaruwa was once the capital of Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and contains the impressive - if slightly hidden away - ancient step pyramid Sathmahal Prasada.
Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka was initially a temporary royal residence in the eighth century AD. However in the late tenth century, it became a capital city of Ceylon (the former name of Sri Lanka) after the ancient capital of Anuradhapura was conquered and destroyed by King Chola Rajaraja I. The Chola dynasty favoured Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura as it was thought to be easier to defend.
Despite this reasoning, in 1070, King Vijayabahu I of the Sinhalese kingdom conquered Polonnaruwa and made it his capital, exiling the Cholas. Vijayabahu set about adorning Polonnaruwa with Buddhist monuments, as opposed to the Brahmanist monuments of the Chola dynasty.
Overall, Polonnaruwa would remain the capital for three centuries, with the twelfth century seeing a mass building project undertaken under King Parakramabahu I.
Parakramabahu constructed beautiful palaces, monuments, parks and gardens. The well-preserved ruins of many of the structures built during this time can be seen at Polonnaruwa today, such as its star attraction, the collection of vast Buddha sculptures known as the Gal Vihara.
Another monument created under Parakramabahu is the Lankatilaka, a grand sacred structure known as a “gedige” which houses a large headless Buddha statue.
The monuments of ancient Polonnaruwa are within easy reach of one another within the modern city, with many tourists hiring bicycles to get around.
Polonnaruwa has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.
A rare entry in the list of world pyramids is the Pyramid of Cestius, a burial tomb and probably the only true surviving Roman pyramid and located in Rome itself.
The Pyramid of Cestius is the tomb of affluent magistrate, Caius Cestius which was built between 18 and 12 BC.
Constructed of white marble and brick, this ostentatious 35-metre high tomb was likely built in this style due to the popularity of all things Egyptian which swept Rome after Egypt was incorporated into the Empire.
Inside the tomb contained a number of frescoes depicting scenes from Roman mythology while an inscription still visible on the exterior gives details about its construction and dedication. This pyramid-tomb was later set into the Aurelian Walls, helping to ensure its preservation through the ages.
A former Maya settlement and now a small, yet important UNESCO listed site in Guatemala, Quirigua contains some smaller step pyramids.
Quirigua Archaeological Park in Izabel, Guatemala is an historic site housing the remains of a Maya settlement.
Whilst thought to have been inhabited from 200 AD, most of the structures at Quirigua date back to the mid-sixth century AD and include numerous carved stone objects and structures, such as an acropolis and a pyramid temple, centred on three main plazas.
Quirigua was an initially relatively small city and certainly smaller than its counterpart Copan in what is now Honduras. However, in the eighth century the ruler of Quirigua, Cauac Sky (723–784 AD) was determined to be independent and achieved this when he captured the leader of Copan. Quirigua was thereby autonomous and the capital of its state and, with plentiful resources such as obsidian and jade, was a prosperous society.
One aspect for which Quirigua is famed is for its collection of stelae, each elaborately carved and one of which, at 36 feet high, is the tallest one of its kind in the world (although only two thirds of it protrudes above ground). Quirigua’s artwork also includes a series of pictures of human-animal hybrids known as “zoomorphs”.
The city was abandoned in around the tenth century, although the reason for this remains a mystery.
Quirigua Archaeological Park is smaller and arguably less flashy or tourist-appropriate than sites such as Copan or Tikal, but it is of great historical importance. In 1981, Quirigua achieved UNESCO World Heritage status.
Really more of an obelisk than a pyramid, the Roman Pyramid of Vienne makes it into the list of pyramids of the world due to its name, which seems to have stuck through the ages.
The Roman Pyramid of Vienne (La Pyramide de Vienne) is a monument which would once have formed the centrepiece of Vienne’s Roman Circus.
While described as a pyramid, this is infact more of a triumphal monument made up of an arched base topped with a steep-sided square-based pyramid tower. Modelled after the one the monuments found at Rome’s Circus Maximus, La Pyramide de Vienne dates back to the 2nd century AD.
Among the most famous pyramids in the world, Saqqara was the burial ground of the Egyptian city of Memphis and home to numerous pyramids and tombs.
Saqqara was the burial place of the city of Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt founded in 3000 BC by Menes.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Saqqara is home to eleven major pyramids sprawled over six miles, including the first ever pyramid, known as the Step Pyramid and funerary complex of pharaoh Djoser (or Zoser), who reigned from c. 2630 to c. 2611 BC.
Saqqara’s pyramids and tombs were built across over three thousand years of Ancient Egyptian civilization, from the tombs of Fifth Dynasty kings such as Userkaf and the pyramid of Unas, with its walls filled with magical spells, to the incredibly well preserved Pyramid of Teti I, built by the first ruler of the Sixth Dynasty. Some believe that Teti I, whose queen is also buried at Saqqara, was assassinated by his bodyguard.
Saqqara is filled with historical treasures, not least of which is the Serapeum where the Egyptians buried the sacred bulls of Apis. The Egyptians believed these bulls were reincarnations of the deity, Ptah. The bulls are perfectly mummified and contained in enormous granite coffins.
Saqqara is a massive historic site and, for those short on time the best places to see are in the north, including the Serapeum, Djoser’s funerary complex and, in between these two, the Mastaba of Akhti-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep, the son and grandson of official Ptah-Hotep.
There are numerous ways to tour Saqqara, including camel, horse and donkey tours available around the Step Pyramid.
A truly stunning and intricate ancient pyramid, the Sun Temple of Konark is an iconic 13th century Hindu Temple listed as a UNESCO site.
The Sun Temple of Konark, spelt by some as Konarak and sometimes called the “Black Pagoda”, in India was built in approximately 1250 AD by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty.
Constructed in honour of Surya, the Hindu deity of the sun, the Sun Temple of Konark is designed as a representation of this deity’s horse-drawn chariot, complete with (originally seven) horses and giant wheels. This effect is created through the external decoration of two of the buildings of the Sun Temple of Konark - the entrance hall and the main shrine.
With numerous intricately decorated stone buildings and the magnificence of its pyramid-like entrance hall, the Sun Temple of Konark is a popular tourist attraction and has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A visit can last around 1.5-2 hours. Keep an eye out for the erotic sculptures.
One of a handful of surviving Mesopotamian ziggurats and a crucial entry on any list of pyramids of the world, Tchogha Zanbil forms part of the remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom.
Tchogha Zanbil is home to the impressive remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom.
Located between Anshan and Suse, the city of Tchogha Zanbil would have been founded in 1250BC by King Untash-Napirisha. It would finally be abandoned in 640BC, following a devastating attack by King Ashurbanipal of the Assyrians. It was never completed.
The undeniable focal point of the ruins of Tchogha Zanbil, also spelt Chogha Zanbil, is one of the greatest - if not in fact the greatest - ziggurats to have been built in Mesopotamia. Originally a temple dedicated to the deity Inshushinak, it developed to become the ornate pyramid-like structure - ziggurat - that stands today, although at 25 metres high it is now just a shadow of its former self having once risen to 60 metres.
Beyond its great ziggurat, visitors to Tchogha Zanbil can also view ancient temples and palaces, including its 13th century BC Untash-Gal Palace. Tchogha Zanbil is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Templo Mayor was a holy temple built in the step-pyramid style in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, whose ruins can now be seen in modern day Mexico City.
Templo Mayor was a temple in the capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, in what is now Mexico City.
In fact, much of Mexico City was built over Tenochtitlan, but some original sites remain, including the Great Temple, known as Templo Mayor, which was the most important building in the city.
Temple Mayor was built by the people of Tenochtitlan as a shrine to the deities Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. Tenochtitlan was originally established in around 325 AD and was a thriving city with around 200,000 people until 1521, when it was conquered by the Spanish.
Templo Mayor is now a popular tourist site, with a museum filled with Aztec artefacts uncovered during the excavation. Overall the Templo Mayor and its museum offer a great insight in the pre-Hispanic era in Mexico.
Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital and was famed for its enormous pyramids. Sadly, it was mostly destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century and little evidence remains.
Tenochtitlan in Mexico was established on an island in Lake Texcoco in 1325 AD as the capital city of the Aztecs and, in its final and most prosperous days, was ruled by Motecuhzoma II, also known as Montezuma.
At its peak, Tenochtitlan was a thriving and imposing city with around 200,000 inhabitants. It was characterised by its enormous pyramids and clear street grids, dividing Tenochtitlan into four zones.
In 1519 AD, during Montezuma’s rule, Spanish invaders led by Hernán Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan and by 1521 the city was conquered. Much of Tenochtitlan was subsequently razed to the ground, leaving little behind.
Today, remnants of Tenochtitlan are hard to find as they have been consumed by the development of modern Mexico City. Those Tenochtitlan sites which have been excavated, including five temples of which Templo Mayor is one, are protected on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, however there is no single Aztec site to visit.
One of the most popular Tenochtitlan sites is Xochimilco. This is more of a beautiful park rather than an archaeological ruin, but features waterways that ran from the Aztec era as well as some Chinampas (flower gardens) from that time. Alternatively, see the Templo Mayor entry for a more traditional site.
The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan measures 225m by 222m at its base and 75m high is one of the largest and most impressive ancient pyramids in the world. A leading entry on any world pyramid list.
Teotihuacan was a holy Mesoamerican city built in around 400 BC in what is now Mexico and forms one of the country’s oldest archeological sites.
Whilst the founders of Teotihuacan have never been definitively identified, it is thought that the city was inhabited by the Toltecs and was also an important Aztec site.
Literally translated as the place “where gods are created”, Teotihuacan was clearly a city of significant religious importance to its inhabitants, as illustrated by the wealth of monuments at the site.
Characterised by looming stepped pyramids, indeed one of the most impressive aspects of Teotihuacan is the sheer size of these monuments, including the Pyramid of the Sun, which measures 225 by 222 metres at its base, rising 75 metres high.
Incredibly well-preserved, despite a fire which tore through Teotihuacan in the 7th century, Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, it is not just Teotihuacan’s religious monuments which make it such an important and popular site. In fact, it is estimated that these make up a mere 10% of the total excavated site and the rest includes castles, such as the Palace of Quetzalcoatl and the Palace of the Citadel, residential buildings and communal buildings.
Visitors to Teotihuacan can maneuver their way through the city via its original streets, such as Avenue of the Dead, which divided the city into quarters, although take note that the site is absolutely enormous.
Today, Teotihuacan is one of the most popular tourist sites in Mexico and includes numerous museums, including the Museo del Sitio, just south of the Pyramid of the Sun where visitors can see various artefacts from the site. It also features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Mexico.
The Terracotta Army forms part of the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. At the heart of the mausoleum stands a 51m high burial mound pyramid believed to contain the emperor’s tomb itself.
The Terracotta Army, part of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, is one of the world’s most famous, intriguing and visually arresting ancient sites, dating back to the third century BC.
A chance find by a group of peasants in Xian in 1974, the Terracotta Army is a collection of around 7,000 life sized clay sculptures of soldiers, infantry, carts and horses in battle formation, each created with its own individual features.
The Terracotta Army was created during the reign of Ying Zheng (246-210 BC) who, after several military victories became known as the First Emperor of Qin, Shi Huang Di. The Terracotta Army formed part of the elaborate mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, built from 221 BC to his death in 210 BC.
Today, the Terracotta Army is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has become a popular museum spanning an area of 190,000 square meters. Overall, a visit to the Terracotta Army Museum should take around 3 hours.
The Terracotta Army also features as one of our Top Visitor Attractions in China.
The Moche Temples are two ancient adobe pyramid temples in Peru, known as the temples of the Sun and the Moon. One of many religious structures to feature on the list of world pyramids.
The Moche Temples in Peru are made up of Huaca del Sol y la Luna, translated as the Temples of the Sun and the Moon.
Moche was a pre-Inca civilisation which preceded that of the Chimu and is sometimes thought of as early Chimu. It dates from around 100 to 900 AD and the Moche Temples are thought to have been built in 500 AD.
The Moche Temples are located in northern Peru and, like many Moche sites, are adorned with various colourful friezes of different shapes and ominous figures. They were built of adobe bricks and would have been constructed over the course of many years, each generation adding further levels.
While Huaca del Sol is the smaller of the two Moche Temples, it is better preserved than Huaca de la Luna.
Tikal in Guatemala was a major Maya site and contains five magnificent pyramids, the largest being an amazing 213ft tall.
Tikal National Park near Flores in Guatemala houses one of the world’s most famous and impressive Maya sites, known as Tikal. In fact, Tikal was a major ceremonial site in the Maya culture, with many temples and pyramids built there between 300 BC and 100BC and then further expansion taking place from 600 AD to 800 AD.
In addition to its ceremonial significance, Tikal was a thriving settlement, a political hub and almost certainly the capital of its region. Tikal has been linked with the Maya city of Teotihuacan in modern Mexico, with which it is believed that it interacted.
Today, visitors to Tikal are greeted with a wealth of well-preserved monuments, palaces, structures and temples. This UNESCO World Heritage site actually has a staggering 3,000 or so ancient structures mostly dating back to between 600 BC and 900 AD, six of which are fully uncovered. Amongst these are five magnificent pyramids, some of them being crowned with temples and the largest one being an impressive 213 feet tall.
Note the sacrificial altars, such as that at the Temple of the Masks, and also try out the acoustics, which were designed so that people could be heard from the tops of the temples down to the bottom of the pyramids.
Main image by Hector Garcia (cc).
Tiwanaku, Bolivia, was the capital of a pre-Inca civilisation. One of its most famous structures is the Akapana, which would once have been a pyramid, but has since been significantly eroded.
Tiwanaku in Bolivia is an impressive archaeological site housing the capital of pre-Inca empire. Much about Tiwanaku remains a mystery and the subject of ongoing academic debate.
Tiwanaku started out as a small farming village in approximately 1200 BC, possibly the first to ever cultivate potatoes. Over the course of the first century, Tiwanaku developed and, by 550 BC, it was a thriving capital of a vast empire with a presence throughout much of the Americas.
At its peak, Tiwanaku had around 20,000 inhabitants. The city remained prosperous over the coming centuries and satellite towns were built, altogether with a population of up to 175,000 people.
The people of Tiwanaku built a magnificent city spanning approximately 2.3 square kilometres with monuments, temples, homes and public buildings. Constructed using the adobe method, this feat was all the more impressive when one considers that Tiwanaku is located approximately 3.5 kilometres above sea level, requiring many of their materials to be transported over long distances.
Tiwanaku was still flourishing in 900 AD, however by the time it was discovered by the Incas in the mid-fifteenth century, it was entirely abandoned, probably having declined in the twelfth century. Yet, the legacy of the Tiwanaku Empire remains today, albeit in ruins.
That which remains is incredible and has resulted in much excited speculation over the years. For example, the many carved heads on the “Templete” or Small Semi-Subterranean Temple were probably meant to represent humans, but have been said to resemble aliens. This has led to some 'alternative' theories as to who – or what - built Tiwanaku.
One of Tiwanaku’s most famous structures is its Akapana temples, which would once have been a pyramid, but has since been significantly eroded, both by looters and by nature. However, its 16 square metre base does allude to the former grandeur of this structure.
Today, Tiwanaku is a popular tourist site and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitor can view its many monuments, gates – such as the well-known Gateway of the Sun - and statues, all of which attest to the importance of this once ceremonial city.
Uxmal was a Maya city in Mexico which contains a series of stunning ceremonial pyramids - the most celebrated of which is the Pyramid of the Soothsayer. This ancient pyramid is considered unique among pyramids of the world because of its unusual elliptical base.
Uxmal is an archaeological site in Mexico which houses the ruins of a Maya town thought to have been inhabited as early as 800BC. Having said this, most of the buildings and structures seen at Uxmal today were constructed in between around 700AD to 1000AD.
A thriving city and a religious centre with great ceremonial significance, at its peak Uxmal had a population of around 25,000 people. Uxmal was abandoned in 1200AD and then inhabited by the Yiu, who would later join the Mayapan League with Chichen Itza.
The layout of the town of Uxmal is one of its most interesting aspects, having been carefully aligned to fit with concepts of astronomy, offering an insight into the beliefs and culture of the Mayas who lived there. Uxmal was also quite advanced in its use of hydraulic systems to gather water up to the hill or “Puuc” on which it was set. Like other ancient cities in Mexico, Uxmal has a series of ceremonial pyramids the most celebrated of which is the Pyramid of the Soothsayer.
Translated as ‘Pyramide el Adivino’ and sometimes known as the “House of the Magician”, the Pyramid of the Soothsayer is an impressive 100-foot high monument dating back to the Late Classic Period. It is flanked by several temples, which were built over time, although legend has it that this pyramid took just one night to complete. Sadly, the pyramid cannot be climbed by tourists.
Beyond this well-known monument, Uxmal has several other impressive structures. The Governor's Palace (Palacio del Gobernador) is one such example, it being completely symmetrical and ornately decorated with depictions of astronomy symbols as well as of the rain god, Chaac. This is near the Casa de las Tortugas or “The House of the Tortoises” which is a simple yet pretty building.
Also at Uxmal is the Quadrangle of the Nuns, also called The Nunnery or “Cuadrangulo de las Monjas” which is comprised of four stone buildings neatly surrounding a courtyard and, like the Governor's Palace, is resplendent with religious artwork. Built at a similar time to the Nunnery and like the one in the city of El Tajin, Uxmal has a ball court, where its citizens would have participated in games.
Uxmal is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and also has a small museum. Organised tours from Merida can last a whole day and include sites such as Kabah. Audio guides are available in several languages for an added fee.
Uxmal features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Mexico.
A lesser-known entry on the list of world pyramids, Yaxha is an impressive ancient Maya site in Guatemala’s Peten region which contains several incredible step pyramids.
Yaxha in Guatemala’s Peten region is an ancient Maya site containing several incredible pyramids as well as other structures such as ball courts and also carved stelae.
From its vast size – it’s not much smaller than Tikal – and its many monuments, it appears that Yaxha was an important settlement for the Maya people, although little is known about its origins.
Main image by Walter Rodriguez (cc).