12 Coolest Pyramids Around the World That Are Not in Egypt

12 Coolest Pyramids in the World (That Aren’t in Egypt!)

Every continent has one!

Whenever Egypt is mentioned, it’s almost immediate that the first thing that comes to your mind is its pyramids, the most famous being the Pyramids of Giza. These amazing structures acted as a tribute to three great pharaohs from the “golden age” of the Old Kingdom, becoming the country’s definitive icon in the process. But wouldn’t you believe it, there are actually more pyramids around the world than you think! 

It seems that the world caught on to how iconic the shape itself is, with some pyramids being older than the ones in Egypt. Each civilization has different uses for these structures, and some even follow slightly different architectural designs. But they all share the same purpose today: to share stories and lessons from generations long ago.

Also read: Inside Egyptian Pyramids: How It Really Looks Like

Famous pyramids in the world found in the Americas

1. El Castillo, Yucatan – Mexico

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For pyramids around the world that aren’t in Egypt, the most common recommendation would be El Castillo in the lost city of Chichen Itza. It is located in Yucatán, with the archaeological site becoming a popular tourist attraction. Chichen Itza itself is an impressive display of intricate architecture made by different Mayan tribes who resided in the city.

El Castillo serves as the centre of the site. It was a major temple dedicated to the Feathered Serpent deity Kulkulkan, which is why surrounding sculptures seen around the temple are serpent heads. A notable event that is popular among tourists is the late afternoon sun during spring or autumn. During these hours, sunlight hits the northwest side of the temple and makes it seem like the shadow of the serpent structure is slithering down.

2. El Castillo, Xunantunich – Belize

El Castillo Belize pyramids outside of Egypt

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Ancient Mesoamerican cultures certainly loved their pyramids. In Central America is… another El Castillo. This relatively underrated structure is located in the Cayo District of Belize. Despite their architectural similarities, they are very different in function. While the pyramid in Chichen Itza served as a temple, this one used to be a civic centre.

If you do happen to visit El Castillo in Belize, it might interest you to hear about an infamous legend in the area. Ancient Mayan culture notes that El Castillo is part of Xunantunich, which means “Maiden of Stone.” The legend behind the name is that an apparition of a woman appears with fiery red eyes that glow in front of the pyramid. She then ascends the staircase and disappears into a stone wall. So, be careful when you decide to visit!

3. The Great Pyramid of Cholula – Mexico

Cholula largest pyramid in the world

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If you thought that the largest pyramid in the world was in Egypt, you’re mistaken. The Great Pyramid of Cholula has broken a lot of records in history because of its size and it will most likely stay that way for years to come. The pyramid is the largest man-made monument in the world. It also happens to be inside the largest archaeological complex found in the Americas. To give an idea of how big this pyramid is, it is a bit shorter than the Pyramid of Giza, less than half, in fact. However, its base is four times wider than its Egyptian counterpart! 

Its name was derived from the ancient Nahuatl word, chollolan, or a “place of refuge.” True enough, the complex was home to a population of at least 100,000 at one point. The pyramid is also believed to be dedicated to the ancient god, Quetzalcoatl. Even when the population dwindled from the complex, the natives ventured to the complex and continued to bury their dead within the pyramid, long after they left.

During the Spanish conquest, it was a practice of the Catholic church to repurpose holy sites. Today, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies) sits atop the largest pyramid in the world. It has since become a major pilgrimage site for people who practise Catholic faith. Since the land is deemed sacred today by the Catholic Church, the pyramid is now restricted from further excavation.

4. Pyramid of the Sun – Mexico

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Another famous pyramid outside Egypt is from the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan. There was no recorded name prior, but it was called the Pyramid of the Sun by the Aztecs when they settled in the abandoned city. Historians believe that the structure is used to honour a deity, as suggested by how the pyramid is built.

The Pyramid of the Sun was constructed in two phases. The first part of it was the base and this dictated its size. After at least 200 years, the second part was made and was an altar. Over time, the altar deteriorated and did not survive.

It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico today, garnering as many as 3.5 million in visitor count in 2019.

Also read: The Top 10 Must-Visit Locations in the Whole of Mexico

Coolest pyramids from the Middle East

5. Ziggurat of Ur – Iraq

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While a ziggurat is different from a pyramid, its structure is almost the same. They share the same wide bases but have different types of stairs. Pyramids have a single set of stairs, while ziggurats have terraces along the edges. As for their purpose, if pyramids were used as mausoleums for royalty, ziggurats are believed to be the administrative centres of settlements.

It makes sense that the completion of the Ziggurat of Ur was during a time when the ancient Sumerian city had grown to become a capital. The top of the structure also served as a shrine of Ur’s deity. Ever since it was rediscovered during excavations, experts found out that the ziggurat went through at least seven restorations before the fall of the Babylonian Empire.

It sustained damages during the Gulf War, such as bullet holes and dents. Nevertheless, the Ziggurat of Ur still holds a majestic aura and undoubted strength, even from a glance.

6. Nubian Pyramids – Sudan

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The Nubian Pyramids are directly influenced by the Egyptians, both in structure and purpose. These ones serve as tombs for royalty during the Kush Empire. However, they differ in measurements; Nubian pyramids are steeper and smaller, while Egyptian pyramids have wide bases. 

These pyramids were often plundered for their treasures. As excavations developed, Greek weapons and furniture were found inside the pyramids, suggesting that the Kingdom of Kush and Ancient Greece were lucrative trading partners. Rising floods inside the pyramids’ burial chambers have made deeper expeditions much more dangerous. Just goes to show how much there is to uncover beneath these incredible structures!

Pyramids in the world found in Europe

7. Pyramid of Hellinikon – Greece

Pyramid of Hellinikon Greece

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If you thought you wouldn’t see Greece and pyramids together in a sentence, then prepare to have your mind blown. Even more dumbfounding is that there is more than one pyramid in Greece. If you’re interested in seeing these structures up close, you’ll want to go to Argolis.

The Pyramids of Argolis are among the few pyramids you will probably see in Europe. These pyramids are known to date back to the second century, according to the accounts of Greek geographer Pausanias. His definition doesn’t steer away from tradition too much, as he wrote that these pyramids also serve as tombs.

The most remarkable of these pyramids is the Pyramid of Hellinikon. There are many theories about its function, from being a military base to an agricultural hub. The most interesting out of all of them is that it could have been an outpost for Egyptian mercenaries, possibly influencing the construction of the other pyramids.

Also read: 7 Tips for Exploring Greece on a Budget

8. Pyramid of Gaius Cestius – Italy

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How often will you get to see a well-preserved ancient Roman structure, let alone in the shape of a pyramid? The Pyramid of Gaius Cestius was built for the family of — you guessed it — Gaius Cestius. He was the head of a prolific religious corporation in Ancient Rome and was honoured with this pyramid as his tomb.

The pyramid is built with brick and cement, adorned and covered with white marble. Inscriptions carved on its faces introduce who Gaius Cestius was. While his tomb has been sealed after construction, plunderers have unfortunately infiltrated the burial chamber for valuables. 

It should be noted that visiting this site can only be done every second and fourth Saturday each month. It’s one of the pyramids around the world where visitors must arrange their trips in advance.

Also read: Travelling to Europe in 2022: What It’s Like and What to Expect

Ancient pyramids found in Asia

9. Gunung Padang – Indonesia

Gunung Padang pyramid outside Egypt

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It is said that Gunung Padang is the oldest pyramid in the world, with data suggesting that it was built around 20,000 BCE. This megalithic structure is located in West Java.

Its purpose has been the subject of many debates. Gunung Padang is considered a sacred site for most people, since it is believed to be an attempt by King Siliwangi to create a palace overnight. Other research suggests that it is the neck of an ancient volcano and not a man-made structure. Regardless, it is a sight to behold should you get the chance to visit.

10. Yonaguni Monument – Japan

Yonaguni Monument Japan

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Yonaguni Monument in Japan holds the distinction among other pyramids around the world for being submerged underwater. Located south of the Ryukyu Islands, Yonaguni has become a popular diving site because apart from the rock formations, it is an ideal spot to observe hammerhead sharks.

It is also arguably the most mysterious, as scientists can’t seem to agree whether it’s man-made or if it formed naturally. One party suggests that frequent earthquakes and strong currents have formed the monument. Others suggest that it was a structure from a lost continent that has sunk. Hey, if its history is up for speculation, why not let your imagination run wild?

Also read: 10 Must-See Temples and Shrines in Japan

11. Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor – China

The pyramids found northwest of China serve the same purpose as the structures built in Egypt: mausoleums for royalty. These ones were built during the final division of the Stone Age. While there are several of these pyramids scattered around Shaanxi Province, the most famous of them is the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

Aside from the pyramid’s extravagant architecture, it is most famous for being the partial site of the Terracotta Army. This army of statues composed of bronze and stone soldiers, chariots, and horses is believed to have been erected to protect the tomb from intruders. It is said that it will take centuries to excavate its entirety, which means that modern archaeology has only scratched the surface!

12. Brihadisvara Temple – India

Brihadisvara Temple

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Unlike most pyramids on this list, the function of Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur is more clear-cut. It is currently an active temple dedicated to the deity Shiva and is frequented by practising Hindus. It is one part of the Great Living Chola Temples, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Learning about Brihadisvara Temple’s inception can be astonishing to hear. It was built at the height of the Chola Empire by King Rajaraja I, between 1003 and 1010 CE. Historians are often amazed how the temple complex is built with granite, despite the nearest deposits of the mineral being found 50 miles away. It is believed that elephants were used to transport large amounts of the stone to build the temple and its builders used an ancient stone cutting technique that would break off the rocks with the use of rainfall.

Brihadisvara Temple’s sculptures alone hold so many secrets and stories that it would be a shame to spoil it here. But even if you don’t enjoy listening to history, no one can look away from the beauty of this temple.

Also read: These Are the New UNESCO World Heritage Sites for 2021

It is fascinating to learn about the history of pyramids around the world. Even more so are the stories that it tells, especially to generations before it. So the next time you visit a pyramid, keep in mind that there are a lot of secrets behind its faces.

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About Author

Aldous Vince Cabildo
Aldous Vince Cabildo

Ever since growing up, Aldous learned how to look at things from an historical perspective. So whenever the opportunity to travel arises, he makes sure to go to places that contain local stories and memories. From there, he takes in the lessons from the past and picks out what to learn, or should it interest him, what to unlearn. At any chance he gets, he also makes sure to try out local cuisine. When not charting his next destination, Aldous likes to explore worlds found in video games, hip-hop, film, and professional wrestling. He is a proud resident of Tondo.