Chiara Bianchi

Exploring Pyramid of Cestius

Discover the ancient Pyramid of Cestius, a remarkable Roman monument in the heart of Testaccio.

Attraction Testaccio
Pyramid of Cestius in Rome's Testaccio district


The Pyramid of Cestius is a unique monument in Rome, dating back to the first century BC. It is the only surviving ancient Egyptian-style pyramid in Europe, and it stands as a testament to the cultural and artistic influence of Egypt on Rome. In this article, you will learn about the history and significance of the pyramid, as well as some practical tips for visiting it.

Setting Expectations: Downsides and Time Considerations

The Pyramid of Cestius is not a very popular attraction in Rome, and it is often overlooked by tourists. This means that you can enjoy a quiet and peaceful visit, without having to deal with crowds or long queues. However, it also means that the pyramid is not very well maintained or preserved, and it may look a bit worn out and dirty. The interior of the pyramid is only open to the public on certain days and times, and you need to book a guided tour in advance. The visit lasts about 30 minutes, and you will be able to see some frescoes and inscriptions inside the burial chamber. The pyramid is located near the Aurelian Walls, which are also worth seeing if you are interested in ancient Roman history and architecture.

Tips for your visit of the Pyramid of Cestius

  • Combine it with other attractions. The pyramid is close to other interesting sites, such as the Protestant Cemetery, where you can see the graves of famous poets like John Keats and Percy Shelley, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of the four major basilicas in Rome, and the Ostiense district, where you can find some street art and trendy bars and restaurants.
  • Take public transportation. The pyramid is easily accessible by metro, bus or train. The nearest metro station is Piramide, on line B. You can also take bus 23 or 280 from the city center, or train FL1 from Termini station.

Additional tips or recommendations for visitors: If you want to see the interior of the pyramid, make sure to book your tour online at least a week before your visit. Y

Practical Information

Opening Hours: The exterior of the pyramid is always visible from the street. The interior is open on the second and fourth Saturday and Sunday of each month, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

How to Get There: The pyramid is located at Piazzale Ostiense, near Porta San Paolo. You can reach it by metro (line B, Piramide station), bus (23 or 280) or train (FL1).

Price: The exterior of the pyramid is free to see. The interior costs 5 euros per person, plus 2 euros for the booking fee.

Crowds: The pyramid is not very crowded, as it is not a major tourist attraction. However, you may encounter some groups of visitors during the guided tours inside.

Weather Considerations: The pyramid can be visited in any weather condition, as it is mostly covered. However, you may want to avoid rainy days, as the area around the pyramid may get muddy and slippery.

Photography: You can take photos of the exterior of the pyramid without any restrictions. However, photography is not allowed inside the pyramid.

Accessibility: The exterior of the pyramid is accessible to wheelchair users, as there are no steps or barriers. However, the interior of the pyramid is not accessible, as there are stairs and narrow passages.

Facilities: There are no facilities at the pyramid, such as toilets, cafes or souvenir shops. You can find some amenities nearby, such as in the Ostiense district or the Protestant Cemetery.

Tours: The only way to see the interior of the pyramid is by booking a guided tour online. The tours are in Italian or English, and they last about 30 minutes.

Bringing Children: The pyramid is suitable for children, as it is a fascinating and unusual monument. However, children may get bored during the guided tour inside, as it is mostly focused on historical and artistic details.

Bringing Pets: Pets are not allowed inside the pyramid, but they can accompany you outside, as long as they are leashed and well-behaved.

These details are subject to change; please check the official website for the latest information

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the Pyramid of Cestius?

    The Pyramid of Cestius is a Roman Era pyramid in Rome, Italy, near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery. It was built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate and member of the Epulones religious corporation.

  • When was the Pyramid of Cestius built?

    The Pyramid of Cestius was built between 18 and 12 BC, according to the inscriptions on its facade. It took 330 days to complete the construction, as stipulated by the will of Gaius Cestius.

  • Why is the Pyramid of Cestius in Egypt style?

    The Pyramid of Cestius was inspired by Egyptian models, which became fashionable in Rome after the conquest of Egypt by Octavian Augustus in 31 BC, following Cleopatra's death. Gaius Cestius wanted to show his admiration for Egyptian culture and art by choosing a pyramid as his tomb.

  • What is inside the Pyramid of Cestius?

    The Pyramid of Cestius has a simple barrel-vaulted burial chamber, which is painted white and decorated with frescoes depicting nymphs and winged Victories. The chamber was violated in the Middle Ages, and the cinerary urn and some portions of the decoration were lost. The chamber is not accessible to the public, except by special permission.

Must see

  • The inscriptions on the facade

    The inscriptions on the northwest and southeast faces of the pyramid tell us the name and titles of Gaius Cestius, as well as the duration and conditions of the construction works. They are carved in white marble slabs and are still legible today.

  • The frescoes in the burial chamber

    The frescoes in the burial chamber are among the oldest examples of Roman painting, dating back to the late Republic period. They are executed in a panel scheme, with figures of nymphs and winged Victories holding a crown and ribbon in their hands. They reflect the influence of Hellenistic art and show a high degree of realism and elegance.

  • The Porta San Paolo

    The Porta San Paolo is one of the ancient gates in the Aurelian Walls, which were built by Emperor Aurelian in the 3rd century AD to protect Rome from barbarian invasions. The pyramid was incorporated into the walls as part of the fortifications. The gate is also known as Porta Ostiense, because it leads to Via Ostiense, the road that connects Rome with Ostia, the ancient port city.

  • The Protestant Cemetery

    The Protestant Cemetery is a historic cemetery located next to the pyramid, where many famous non-Catholic foreigners are buried, such as poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, sculptor William Wetmore Story, philosopher Antonio Gramsci, writer Carlo Emilio Gadda, and many others. The cemetery is also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery or the Cemetery of Testaccio. It is a peaceful oasis of greenery and art in the heart of Rome.

Lesser known stories and Interesting Facts

  • The pyramid was not built by Egyptians

    The Pyramid of Cestius is a Roman Era pyramid in Rome, Italy, near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery. It was built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate and member of the Epulones religious corporation. It was inspired by the Egyptian style of architecture, which became popular in Rome after the conquest of Egypt in 31 BC by Augustus. 

  • The pyramid was incorporated into the city wall

    In the 3rd century AD, the emperor Aurelian built a new defensive wall around Rome, which included the Pyramid of Cestius as one of its towers. The pyramid was thus preserved from demolition and decay, unlike other ancient monuments in Rome. The wall also protected the pyramid from vandalism and looting, although it was still plundered at some point in antiquity or the Middle Ages. 

  • The pyramid has frescoes and inscriptions inside

    The interior of the pyramid contains a single burial chamber, which is decorated with frescoes depicting nymphs and winged Victories. The frescoes were recorded by Pietro Santi Bartoli in the 17th century, but only faint traces remain today. The chamber also has two inscriptions on its walls, one stating the name and titles of Gaius Cestius, and the other stating that the construction of the tomb was completed in 330 days. 

  • The pyramid was mistaken for Remus' tomb

    In the 15th century, the Pyramid of Cestius was erroneously identified as the Meta Remi, or the tomb of Remus, the twin brother of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. This was based on a medieval legend that claimed that Romulus and Remus were buried in pyramids near the Tiber river. The mistake was corrected in 1499, when Pope Alexander VI ordered the demolition of another pyramid near St. Peter's Basilica, which was thought to be Romulus' tomb. The inscription on the Pyramid of Cestius revealed its true origin.

  • The pyramid is open to visitors

    Since 2015, the Pyramid of Cestius is open to visitors every second and fourth Saturday of each month, by reservation only. Visitors can access the burial chamber and admire its frescoes and inscriptions. The visit also includes a tour of the nearby Protestant Cemetery, where many famous artists and writers are buried, such as John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Antonio Gramsci.

Historical Background

The Pyramid of Cestius is one of the few surviving examples of Roman pyramids, which were built as tombs for wealthy and influential individuals during the late Republic and early Empire periods. The fashion for Egyptian-style monuments started after Augustus defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and annexed Egypt as a province of Rome. Egypt became a source of fascination and exoticism for many Romans, who admired its ancient culture and religion.

Gaius Cestius was one of those Romans who embraced the Egyptian aesthetics for his funeral monument. He was a member of the Septemviri Epulones, a college of priests who organized banquets in honor of various gods and goddesses. He also held political offices such as praetor and tribune of the plebs. He died around 12 BC, and according to his will, he wanted his tomb to be built in the shape of a pyramid within 330 days. His heirs complied with his request, and erected a 36-meter high pyramid with a square base of 30 meters per side.

The pyramid was built with concrete covered with white marble slabs, which gave it a bright appearance. It had no external entrance, but only a narrow shaft leading to the burial chamber. The chamber was decorated with frescoes showing scenes from Greek mythology and Roman religion. The chamber also contained an urn with Cestius' ashes, which was later stolen by grave robbers.

The pyramid was surrounded by an enclosure wall made of tuff blocks, and by four columns at its corners. The wall had two bronze statues of Cestius, one in civil attire and one in military attire. The columns had statues of four of Cestius' relatives, who were also buried in the enclosure. The wall and the statues are now lost, but their existence is attested by ancient sources and archaeological evidence.

The pyramid was located along the Via Ostiensis, a road that connected Rome with the port of Ostia. The road was lined with tombs and monuments of various kinds, which reflected the social status and personal taste of their owners. The pyramid was a conspicuous and impressive sight for travelers and pilgrims who entered or left the city. It was also a landmark for sailors who navigated along the Tiber river.

Nearby Restaurants

  • Volpetti A gourmet delicatessen that offers a variety of cheeses, meats, breads, wines, and other delicacies. You can also order sandwiches, salads, and pastries to go or to eat on the spot. 
  • Da Remo A traditional Roman pizzeria that serves thin and crispy pizzas with various toppings. You can also try other dishes such as pasta, salads, and fried appetizers. 
  • Porto Fluviale A modern and spacious restaurant that offers different cuisines, such as pizza, sushi, burgers, and seafood. You can also enjoy a cocktail or a coffee at the bar. 

Nearby Attractions

  • The Protestant Cemetery A peaceful and romantic cemetery where many famous foreigners are buried, such as John Keats, Percy Shelley, Antonio Gramsci, and Carlo Emilio Gadda. The cemetery also has a beautiful garden with many plants and flowers.
  • The Porta San Paolo A monumental gate that was part of the Aurelian Walls, which surrounded Rome in the 3rd century AD. The gate has two semicircular towers and a central arch. It was the scene of a battle in 1943, when the Germans tried to enter the city. 
  • The Centrale Montemartini A former power plant that has been converted into a museum of ancient art. The museum displays sculptures, mosaics, and other artifacts from the Roman period, juxtaposed with the industrial machinery of the plant. The contrast creates a unique and fascinating atmosphere.


The Pyramid of Cestius is a remarkable example of how Rome absorbed and adapted different cultures and styles throughout its history. It is also a testimony of the personal ambition and taste of Gaius Cestius, who wanted to leave a lasting mark on the cityscape. The pyramid is not only a tomb, but also a monument that invites curiosity and admiration. If you are in Rome, don't miss the chance to visit this ancient wonder and discover its secrets.