Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Intriguing pyramid in Rome

Many years ago, I remember how this “piramide” (in Italian with the accent on the “ra”) was my beacon to find my way to my lodgings on the road to Ostia. Back then, I did not investigate its origins and just dismissed this dirty monument as one of those extravagant imitations we may encounter anywhere.

This being said, I was truly surprised to hear that this pyramid was an iconic landmark dating from the first century BC and that a Japanese businessman made funds available for its restoration in gratitude for his flourishing business in Italy. The world is certainly full of surprises!


This steep Pyramid was built around 18-12 BC over the tomb of Gaius Cestius measuring at its base 29.6 meters over a height of 37 meters. The tomb itself was a barrel-vaulted chamber of 6x4 meters and 4.8 meter high, once richly decorated with frescoes that were still visible in 1660 when the tomb was opened for the first time since antiquity. Although the tomb had been sealed after construction, it has, as so often, been looted in antiquity. Today it is empty and only scant traces of fresco survived.

Once the place was cleaned up, it appears that this once grim and obscure pyramid is covered with Carrara marble, which evidently has suffered much from physical, chemical and biological decay over the centuries. Thanks to the use of innovative materials and techniques, which will benefit future conservation projects as well, the restoration team was able to deal with Romes pollution issues.

As a bonus, we now can even read the inscriptions carved on the east and west flanks of the pyramid reading Gaius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the gens Pobilia, member of the College of Epulones, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir of the Epulones. On the east side only, this inscription is followed by these lines: The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman.

The shape of the pyramid is a close reminder of those found in Nubia, which had been conquered by Rome in 23 BC. Because of this similarity, it is possible that Cestius somehow participated in the Roman campaign in that country where the idea caught on. It seems that there were other examples of pyramids built in Rome at that time, like the Pyramid of Romulus that was taken down by Pope Alexander VI who used the marble for the steps of St Peter’s Basilica. Before the Roma hype, these pointed pyramids were already favored by the Ptolemy’s in Egypt, a country that fell to Octavian in 30 BC with the dead of the famous Queen Cleopatra.

What a shame that such an odd construction has been taken out of its context and now sits in the middle of the city’s heavy traffic. But there is good news too as the Pyramid is now open to the public every second and fourth Saturday of the month.

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