Pyramid of Cestius in Rome
The Pyramid of Cestius (in Italian, Piramide di Caio Cestio or Piramide Cestia) is an ancient pyramid in Rome, Italy, near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery. It stands at a fork between two ancient roads, the Via Ostiensis and another road that ran west to the Tiber along the approximate line of the modern Via della Marmorata. Due to its incorporation into the city's fortifications, it is today one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome.
The pyramid was built about 18 BC–12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate and member of one of the four great religious corporations in Rome, the Septemviri Epulonum. It is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble standing on a travertine foundation, measuring 100 Roman feet (29.6 m) square at the base and standing 125 Roman feet (37 m) high.
In the interior is the burial chamber, a simple barrel-vaulted rectangular cavity measuring 5.95 metres long, 4.10 m wide and 4.80 m high. When it was (re)discovered in 1660, the chamber was found to be decorated with frescoes, which were recorded by Pietro Santi Bartoli, but only the scantest traces of these now remain. There was no trace left of any other contents in the tomb, which had been plundered in antiquity. The tomb had been sealed when it was built, with no exterior entrance; it is not possible for visitors to access the interior,
The origins of the pyramid were forgotten during the Middle Ages. The inhabitants of Rome came to believe that it was the tomb of Remus (Meta Remi) and that its counterpart near the Vatican was the tomb of Romulus, a belief recorded by Petrarch. Its true provenance was clarified by Pope Alexander VII's excavations in the 1660s, which cleared the vegetation that had overgrown the pyramid, uncovered the inscriptions on its faces, tunnelled into the tomb's burial chamber and found the bases of two bronze statues that had stood alongside the pyramid.<ref name="claridge" />
The pyramid was an essential sight for many who undertook the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was much admired by architects, becoming the primary model for pyramids built in the West during this period. Percy Bysshe Shelley described it as "one keen pyramid with wedge sublime" in Adonaïs, his 1821 elegy for John Keats. In turn the English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy saw the pyramid during a visit to the nearby Protestant Cemetery in 1887 and was inspired to write a poem, Rome: At the Pyramid of Cestius near the Graves of Shelley and Keats, in which he wondered: "Who, then was Cestius, / and what is he to me?"
In 2001, the pyramid's entrance and interior underwent restoration. In 2011, further work was announced to clean and restore the pyramid's badly-damaged external walls, through which water seepage has endangered the frescoes within. The €1-million project will be sponsored by Japanese businessman Yuzu Yakhi and supervised by Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
- Sepulchrum Caii Cestii in Platner's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome