Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pyramids within the Roman Realms (East / West)

"Ancient Rome" before the year 1000 CE (1000 years BM)

* Pyramids of Argolis within the modern-day jurisdiction of the Republic of Greece, near Constantinople. More information -
- ( []
- ( []


* Appian Way (Appia Antica) Pyramid []


* "Amheida, on the western edge of Dakhla Oasis" ( [], photo caption: Reconstructed Roman period pyramid.


"Medieval Romeafter the year 1000 CE

* "What is a Pyramid doing in the Heart of Rome?" (2015-05-10, [] [begin excerpt]: It should first be pointed out that the Pyramid of Cestius was not the only Egyptian-style pyramid in Rome. There was also another pyramid, known as the ‘Pyramid of Romulus’. Incidentally, during the Middle Ages, the Pyramid of Cestius was known as the ‘Pyramid of Remus’, and it was believed that these two pyramids were the tombs of the legendary founders of Rome. The larger ‘Pyramid of Romulus’, located between the Vatican and Hadrian’s Mausoleum (known also as the Castel Sant’Angelo), was dismantled sometime during the 16th century so that its marble could be used in the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Pyramid of Cestius was incorporated into the circuit of walls known as the Aurelian Walls. The identity of the pyramid was later forgotten, and was only rediscovered sometime in the 1600s. During this time, the pyramid was being restored, and the inscriptions on its faces were uncovered. According to the inscriptions on the east and the west flanks of the pyramid, the structure was built as a tomb for a man called Gaius Cestius Epulo, the son of Lucius, of the tribe of Pobilia. The inscription also mentions that Cestius was a praetor, a tribune of the plebs, and a septemvir of the Epulones (a college of priests responsible for preparing the feasts in honor of the gods). A second inscription announces that the building of this monument was completed in 330 days. [end excerpt]
* "The Pyramid of Caius Cestius built" (1560s, by Antonio Lafreri) [], see also "The talking statue of Marforio in Rome" (1560s, by Antonio Lafreri) []
* "Meta Sudans - And other Roman Turning Points" [] [begin excerpt] Between Hadrian's tomb and the Circus of Nero (now St. Peter's Square) there was a pyramid shaped structure that was called the Meta Romuli. Here is a view by Pirro Ligorio from 1561 [] (extract shown below). It appears to show a lot of things that he could not have actually seen by that date, but is a nice representation. Note the depiction of actual metas at the ends of the spina inside the circus. [end excerpt] close-up of the following at [] []

Etching by Onofrio Panvinio [1530-1568], De Ludis Circensibus, ca. 1600 [].

The two Pyramids of Romulus and Remus (the surviving Pyramid of Cestius) in the City of Rome do not come with a historical account about the inspiration of the their construction, although Cestius fought in Kush among the similar pyramids built there.

The Pyramid of Remus is featured on the following maps:
* 1472 Masaio Ancient Rome map [], full image []
* 1474 Strozzi Ancient Rome map [], full image []
* 1561 Ligorio Rome Map [], full image []
* 1574 Duperac Ancient Rome Map [], full image []

* map of ancient Rome (1561, by Pirro Ligorio):
- Close-ups of the following at [] []

- Resembling a pyramid, this object stood adjacent to the Tiber River island shown at this link [].

Another historical personage whom the Meta was commonly referred to, particularly during the Renaissance, was Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (235–183 BC), the famous roman general who defeated Hannibal.
in the map of ancient Rome by Étienne Duperac (1574) the pyramid is referred to Scipio

The same 15th century text previously quoted (Tractatus de rebus antiquis...), in listing Rome's important palaces, curiously mentions the pyramid a second time with the following words:
"Scipio's palace stood by the 'horse', along the Cornelian way, where it is still visible now."
Such dual interpretation of the monument shows how little reliable were its medieval descriptions; but, on the other hand, this further entry confirms the location of the pyramid in the Vatican area. The aforesaid 'horse' is a simplification of the old name of the site once called coxa caballi ("horse's leg"), later in time Italianized into Scossacavalli, in the heart of Borgo district; up to the 1930s the main local square bore this name (before it disappeared, following some heavy alterations), and also a nearby street is still called via Scossacavalli.
In a map of ancient rome drawn by Pirro Ligorio (1561) the pyramid is labelled Monumentum Sempronii ("Sempronius' monument").

Most visual sources of the Meta Romuli (i.e. etchings, paintings, reliefs, etc.) date back to the 1500s. During this century the revived interest for classicism led many cartographers to draw not only new maps of Rome, whose urban structure was rapidly changing, but also plans of the ancient city, based on the investigation of the many ruins that were still scattered all over the urban area.
Although these maps often featured buildings and monuments no longer extant shaped as the cartographer had imagined them, the Meta Romuli, constantly depicted by Hadrian's tomb (see the several sample pictures), can be considered reasonably faithful to its original look, having been demolished only 50-100 years earlier, thus still lingering in the memory of the elder population.
Only few visual sources of the monument date back to earlier years, prior to the pyramid's destruction; one of them is represented by the bronze doors of St.Peter's basilica, cast in 1445 by the famous sculptor Filarete; in the panel depicting St.Peter's martyrdom, the Meta clearly recognizable in the foreground. But in the opposite corner of the same panel, a similar structure shaped as a pyramid is undoubtly the mysterious Terebinthus mentioned by medieval sources.

the panel of St.Peter's door featuring the saint's crucifiction: the Meta is in the left corner, the Terebinthus in the right one, and in the centre is Hadrian's tomb, later turned into the Castle

No other image of the Terebinthus seems to exist, likely because artists considered the vague description provided by the early guides of Rome insufficient for a graphic rendering of the building.
The Meta survived up to 1499. In that year pope Alexander VI had the main street of Borgo district straightened, and renamed via Alexandrina after himself. For this reason about one half of the pyramid, which obstructed the street, was sacrificed. The surviving part was demolished only a few decades later, in 1564, when the nearby church of Santa Maria in Traspontina was taken down and rebuilt 100 metres off the original spot, where it still stands today.

the Renaissance church of Santa Maria in Traspontina

Leonardo Bufalini's map of Rome (detail on the right), drawn a few years before the last half of the Meta disappeared, clearly shows the pyramid's position in relation to pope Alexander's arrangement of the district. The church of Santa Maria in Traspontina is still featured in its original location, while the Meta, whose floor plan is the dark square labelled as 'the tomb of Scipio Africanus', is crossed by via Alexandrina. The new Santa Maria's church was then built just past this spot.

Bufalini's map (1551): the asterisk marks Santa Maria in Traspontina's still in its old location, while the arrow indicates the spot where the church was rebuilt; the floor plan of the pyramid is clearly visible (dark area along via Alexandrina)


The earliest depiction of Pyramids found within the Roman Realm -
*  1100s AD (up to 899 years BM), a mosaic from the San Marco, Venice, on one of the domes of St. Mark's Basilica, more images at [], and as described by "Basilica di San Marco" touristic book []. The mosaic contains a scene from the Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt. The pyramids may be patterned on the pyramids around the Roman Realm, as they do not appear like the Pyramids of Romulus and Remus (today credited as the Pyramid of Cestius) in the City of Roma.

* The Book of John Mandeville (1300s AD) is a travelogue that writes [begin excerpt]: I will speak about something else that is beyond Babylon across the Nile River towards the desert between Africa and Egypt: these are Joseph's Granaries, which he had made to store the wheat for hard times. They are made of well-hewn stone. Two of them are amazingly large and tall and the others are not so big. And each granary has an entrance for going inside a little above the ground, for the land has been ravaged and ruined since the granaries were built. Inside they are completely full of snakes; and outside on these granaries are many writings in different languages. Some say that they are tombs of the great lords of antiquity, but that is not true....if they were tombs, they would not be empty inside, nor would they have entrances for going inside, nor are tombs ever made of such a large size and such a height—which is why it is not to be believed that they are tombs. [end excerpt]

the pyramid (bottm right) between St.Peter's and the Castle, from an illuminated book of 1456


The old Pyramid of Remus (or, Cestius) is shown embedded in the city wall, serving the guide as a landmark.
* "Plan of Rome" (c.1469, by Del Massaio), full page []:


* (1474, Alessandro Strozzi) []:


* "Noah and The Flood" (1452, by Lorenzo Ghiberti):


* "How God Manifests" woodcut from the 1500’s, probably before the Vatican pyramid in the background was torn down. Attributed to an alchemy-related book of the 1600s.


* Detail of "The Vision of the Cross" fresco, 1520 by Giulio Romano, Giovanni Francesco Penni and Raffaellino del Colle, (students of Rafael), currently held at the Palace of Vatican, full version [], more images from the gallery [].


Published c. 1545 AD (455 years BM), archived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, posted at []:
* "Juno tells Juno of his Love" []

* "Triumph of Bacchus" []

* "The Birth of Saint John the Baptist" [], shown for comparison with the preceding, to display the thoughtful detail


"There Once Was In Rome... part 5: the Meta Romuli" ( []:

Many are aware of one of ancient Rome's most peculiar landmarks, the pyramid were Gaius Cestius was buried (1st century BC). But this is not the only monument with this shape built in the city. A very similar one once stood in the Vatican area, just outside the north-western boundary of ancient Rome.
Of this second pyramid, whose size was similar to the surviving one, if not even larger, no trace at all is left today. Whether it was older than the aforesaid tomb of Gaius Cestius cannot be told. What we know about the monument mostly comes from several descriptions found in guides of Rome dating back to the 12th-14th centuries, written in medieval Latin and in early Italian, for the benefit of the many pilgrims. Unfortunately, these accounts were not very detailed, but still give us an idea of what the monument looked like, and where it was located.
Encased between the Tiber (east), the Vatican Hill (west) and the Janiculum Hill (south), outside the city boundary, in ancient times the Vatican was rather different from what it is today. There stood the circus built by emperors Gaius (better known as Caligola) and Nero (finished in AD 56).

the pyramid of Gaius Cestius, by St.Paul's Gate

Not far, by the river bank, another outstanding monument was the great tomb of Hadrian (AD 139), whose name changed into Sant'Angelo Castle after having been turned into a fortress.
The pyramid stood between the two landmarks, where the two main roads formed a crossing, just past Nero's Bridge. According to some sources, also a naumachia (naval stadium) stood nearby, but its exact location has never been identified.

map of the Vatican in ancient Rome: the spot where the Meta Romuli stood is marked in red,
the urban area is coloured in pink, and the main buildings yet to come are outlined with a dotted line

the Meta Romuli, between the Circus of Nero and the Tomb of Hadrian (whose base is seen at the back), from a map of ancient Rome by Pirro Ligorio (1561)

During the Middle Ages the impressiveness of the white pyramid indeed caught the imagination of common people, who related it to famous roman heroes.
It was known as Meta Romuli (Romulus' Meta), because its shape recalled the pillars used in ancient circuses to mark the two ends of the track, called metae; the pyramids built in Rome had a sharper angle (i.e. were narrower) than the Egyptian ones. But art historian Umberto Gnoli, in a work about Rome's topography (1939), claimed that in medieval Latin this word had a meaning of 'hostel', thus the monument may have been called a meta because included in a building that acted as an inn for pilgrims. In fact, during the Middle Ages many family houses and small fortresses incorporated ancient ruins left standing, in order to grant the building a greater steadiness, as in those years the building techniques were rather primitive.

According to a popular belief, the mythical founder of Rome, Romulus, was buried in the pyramid. Some sources also refer to this monument more explicitly as 'Romulus' tomb'. This was clearly a legend. But the name Meta Romuli became so common that, during the Middle Ages, the now surviving pyramid of Gaius Cestius, despite bearing an inscription with his name, was known as Meta Remi (the meta of Remus, i.e. Romulus' brother), in opposition to the one in the Vatican, which evidently was better known by the people.

Another name the pyramid was commonly known with is Borgo's Meta, after the district that during the early Middle Ages had spread over the Vatican plains, or St.Peter's Meta.

Most of the sources that describe the Meta Romuli also mention a second tall building that stood very close to the pyramid, more often referred to as Terebinthus of Nero, (but in some cases as Terabintum, or Tiburtinum i.e. "made of travertine marble"), whose purpose and age are also unknown. Provided that it did not exist only in the fantasy of medieval authors, it might have collapsed or been destroyed much earlier than the Meta Romuli, as all texts refer to it in terms of there once was..., in times during which the pyramid was still standing.

view of Borgo district, in 1493: the pyramid (centre) towered over the surrounding houses, but there is no trace of the Terebinthus

today's look of the place: once in the central part of the picture stood the old buildings, among which the early church of Santa Maria Traspontina

Furthermore, several sources say that the marble which the two aforesaid buildings were lined with was used for the making of the old St.Peter's basilica (finished in AD 349); in fact, when the proscription of the Christian religion came to an end, under emperor Constantine I (4th century), it became a common practice to take away marble and other valuable material from abandoned pagan temples for building new churches.
Therefore, by the time the guides were written, the Terebinthus may have not been there any longer, whereas the Meta Romuli was still standing in the late 15th century.

The following passages are taken from 12th-13th century works in which the pyramid and the Terebinthus are described. By clicking on the link, the original text can be read.

from Mirabilia Urbis Romae (the wonders of the city of Rome), c.12th century [] -
XX. about the Meta and Nero's Tiburtinum [Terebinthus].
By the Naumachia is the tomb of Romulus, which is called Meta, and was covered with fine stone [marble], out of which the floor and the stairway of St.Peter's were made. It had a 20-foot open space around it, made of travertine marble, with its own drainage gutter and flowers.
Next to it stood Nero's tiburtinum [Terebinthus], as tall as Hadrian's Castle, covered with fine stone, out of which the steps and the courtyard [of St.Peter's] were built. This round building had two round walls in a fashion similar to the Castle, whose top part was covered with marble slabs for the water to drip; by this spot the saint apostle Peter was crucified. [end excerpt]

from Le miracole de Roma (the wonders of the city of Rome), c.13th century [] -
III. about the Meta and the Castle.
By the Naumachia is the tomb of Romulus, which is called St.Peter's Meta. It was covered with fine marble, out of which the floor and the stairway of St.Peter's was made. It had a 20-foot open space around it, made of travertine marble, with a drainage gutter in which the water of the Meta's open space flowed.
IV. about Nero's Terebinthus.
Beside the Meta stood Nero's Terebinthus, as tall as Hadrian's Castle. It was covered with large slabs. And it had two round walls, in a fashion similar to the Castle. And the upper part of the walls was covered with large marble slabs for the water [as waterproof cover]. The Terebinthus stood next to the spot where the saint apostle Peter was crucified, and where now stands the church of Santa Maria in Trasbedina [Traspontina]. [end excerpt]

from Graphia aureae urbis Romae (account of the sublime city of Rome), late 12th century [] -
By the Naumachia is the tomb of Romulus, which is called Meta; it used to be covered with fine stone, out of which the floor and the stairway of St.Peter's were made. It had a 20-foot open space made of travertine marble all around it, with a drainage gutter and flowers of its own.
Next to it stood Nero's Terebinthus, as tall as Hadrian's memorial, covered with fine stone, out of which the steps and the courtyard [of St.Peter's] were built. This round building had two round walls, in the fashion of the memorial, whose top part was covered with marble slabs for the water to drip; by this spot the saint Apostle Peter was crucified. [end excerpt]

According to another version of the legend, the pyramid in Borgo district was not Romulus' burial, but the one of his brother Remus.
from Tractatus de rebus antiquis et situ urbis Romae ("essay about antiquities and the site of the city of Rome"), by an anonymous author, early 15th century [] -
By the Almachia [a corruption of Naumachia], that is to say by Santa Maria in Traspontina's church, stands the meta which, it is said, was the tomb of Remulus [i.e. Remus], killed on the Janus [likely, the nearby Janiculus hill] by order of Romulus; and with regard to this meta, as I already said, I am in doubt that it may have not been built by Romulus for Remulus, because in those days Romulus and his clan did not have so much power. I cannot find another origin that can be relied on; but in any case, it was very beautiful, covered as it was with marble slabs, which emperor Constantine had Saint Peter's floor built and decorated with. The aforesaid meta had a circle of twenty steps around it, and a hight of ten feet, with a patio in travertine marble, a drainage gutter and a hole. In front of it stood Nero's Terabintum [Terebinthus], which was built over the remains of the Temple of Jupiter: from this building comes the fountain's basin in the square, in which the parasite priests preached in the time when the Terabintum was there. After its destruction, a temple of Diana was built, and Hadrian's great tomb with the bridge, which today is called Sant'Angelo Castle, as will be said further, according to what can be read in the inscriptions, up to emperor Crescentius, who changed its name into Crescentius' Castle, and the aforesaid name Sant'Angelo Castle, chosen by saint pope Gregory, has been haded down up to our days. [end excerpt]

the Vatican area with the 'tomb of Romulus', in a map of Rome by Pietro del Massaio (1472)

The legend about the origin of the pyramid misled even cultured people, such as Petrarch. Around 1440-50 Poggio Bracciolini, a distinguished man of letters, wrote []:
Furthermore in the Vatican stands a large-sized pyramid, similar to a massive building, free from any ornament. (...) What surprises most, being the inscription still preserved, is that Francis Petrarch, a most learned man, wrote in one of his letters that this is the tomb of Remus; I believe that, following the popular belief, he did not make an in-depth investigation of the inscription, covered by branches, in reading which those who came after him, yet being less cultured, proved to be more careful. [end excerpt]

Map excerpt showing Central Asia (1550, Desceliers' World Map; as published in "New Found Lands" page 128):

The following extracts from the map show other types of buildings, provided for comparison with the extracts showing the pyramids. The author of the map displays a typical rendition of pyramids based on the pyramids of Rome and other cities in the geographic vicinity, alongside typical Latin architecture is place cities in foreign lands on the map.

This image may show a depiction of The Pyramid of Romulus or of Remus, a structure still intact when the etching was created but which was torn down on orders of the Pope to build a new structure, and which shows that there was a distinctive Pyramid motif in Rome itself which artists reflected.
* "The Brothers, Disputing Over the Founding of Rome, Consult the Augurs" plate 7 from the series "The Story of Romulus and Remus" (1575, etching by Giambattista Fontana) [], image []:

* extract from the frontspiece to "Turris Babel" (1679, by Athanasius Kircher) []:

* "A view of Borghetto", by Hendrik Frans van Lint (Antwerp 1684-1763 Rome), at the Lo studio [], citation from ([]

* With Trajan's Column And The Pryamid Of Cestius (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

* "Capriccio Architettonico Con Figure E Piramide Sul Fondo" by (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini 1691/92-1765 (Italy) []

Capriccio con rovine e la Basilica di Vicenza, la piramide di Caio Cestio, l'arco di Castantino.
Autore: canaletto

A capriccio of classical ruins with the Pyramid of Cestius (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini

* A capriccio of Roman ruins with a soldier and other figures (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

* A capriccio of classical ruins with figures (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

A Capriccio of Roman Ruins with Soldiers resting in the foreground (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

* A Landscape With Classical Ruins And Figures Resting In The Foreground (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

* An Architectural Capriccio With Stonemasons On Classical Ruins (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

* An architectural capriccio with the Colosseum (after) Giovanni Paolo Panini []

Giovanni Battista (also Giambattista) Piranesi (Italian pronunciation: [dʒoˈvanni batˈtista piraˈnesi]; 4 October 1720 – 9 November 1778) was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric "prisons" []:

Pyramids are also still incorporated in certain churches.


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