Pyramid of Caius Cestius

Pyramid of Caius Cestius

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius is the only surviving monument of a series of similar buildings existing in Rome in the 1st c. BCE, when funerary architecture was influenced by the fashion that had arisen in Rome after the conquest of Egypt in 31 BCE. 

Caius Cestius, a Roman politician, member of the priestly college of the Epulones, instructed in his will that the construction of his tomb, in the form of a pyramid, should be carried out in 330 days. The tomb was erected along the Via Ostiensis in the period between 18 and 12 BCE, i.e. between the year of promulgation of the law against the ostentation of luxury, which forbade the placement of precious tapestries within the burial chamber, and that of the death of Agrippa, Augustus’ son-in-law, who is mentioned among the beneficiaries of the will.

The Pyramid was later incorporated into the circuit of walls built between 272 and 279 CE on the initiative of the Emperor Aurelian.

The structure, 36.40 metres high with a with a square base of 29.50 metres per side, is composed of a nucleus of concrete with a curtain of bricks; the external cladding is made of Luni marble.

The barrel-vaulted burial chamber, of about 23 square metres, was walled up at the time of the entombment, after the Egyptian custom. The first violation of the tomb probably dates back to the Middle Ages; it was carried out by digging a tunnel in the northern side, and it entailed the loss of the cinerary urn as well as of significant portions of the decoration.

The walls are frescoed according to a decorative scheme consisting of panels,  wherein can be distinguished, on a light background, figures of nymphs alternating with lustral vases. At the top, on the corners of the vault, four winged Victories, each one bearing in her hands a crown and a ribbon; at the centre was originally to be a scene depicting the apotheosis of the incumbent of the sepulchre.

The restoration of the burial chamber was executed by the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome in 2001.

In 2011, further interventions were announced and, in November 2012, construction work began to erect the scaffolding needed to carry out the restoration of the Pyramid, which was sponsored by a Japanese patron.