Like Germany with Christmas markets, Egypt really nailed down its reputation for being the home of pyramids early on. But we know you, dear readers—you like to walk the road less travelled, swim the seas less paddled, eat the food less… digested? Maybe not.
Well, friends, Giza isn’t the only place in the world you can bear witness to the tombs and temples of ancient cultures. Here are our favourite lesser-travelled pyramids around the world:
With over twice as many pyramids as neighbouring Egypt, Sudan’s ancient cultures have left behind a wealth of imposing and well-preserved structures that fly under the radar to this day. That’s likely due to so many governments advising against all travel to the region, which has been struggling with civil unrest on and off since the 1950s. That said, much of the country is completely unaffected.
If and when you do visit, you’ll be greeted by 255 pyramids, which were erected along the Nile Valley by the Kushites in ancient Nubia. There are several settlements to choose from, but the most impressive is undoubtedly the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meroë, a few hours north of Khartoum.
While they max out at around 30 metres tall (in comparison to Giza’s 139 metres), there are nearly 200 pyramids there, many of which are tombs of the 40 kings and queens who ruled the Nubian Empire. Visiting in person would of course be our preferred way to experience the Nubian pyramids, but we found a wonderful virtual tour to tide you over for now.
The ruins and temples of Naqa and Musawwarat es-Sufra, which make up part of the same UNESCO site, also offer some insight to the history of the region. Though at around 40 miles off the main road, you definitely need to plan how to get there. If you’re dying to see it all ASAP, we’d recommend checking out tours run by adventure travel experts. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait it out…
Pre-dating even the pyramids in Egypt, Brazil’s pyramids are considered the oldest in the world, having been built around 3,000 BCE. These ones are a lot more mysterious than their African counterparts, though, with no written records of their construction in existence.
The pyramid near Jaguaruna in Santa Catarina State is one of the last remaining in Brazil. It stands 100 ft tall (though researchers think it may have once been much taller) and has a base covering an impressive 25 acres. However, archaeologists reckon there were once thousands of pyramids built along the Atlantic coast of southern Brazil.
And why along the coast? Well, that’s because these pyramids were made using only seashells. As a result, many have been mistaken for rubbish heaps over the years and destroyed to make way for development.
Brazil’s pyramids were built over the course of decades, or even centuries, and appear to have been used for burials and other religious purposes, just like the ones found in Egypt. However, more like the pyramids found in other parts of the Americas, structures were built on top of them.
The gem at the centre of the ancient Angkorian capital of Koh Ker is Prasat Prang, a seven-level stepped pyramid standing 36 metres high. At around 2.5 hours’ drive from Angkor Wat, it’s definitely off the beaten path, hidden away in the Angkor Archaeological Park among the jungle of northern Cambodia.
Like other pyramids, the Koh Ker Pyramid was built as a religious temple. Inscriptions suggest it was built by King Jayavarman IV in 928-942 CE to worship Treypuvanesvara, the god of happiness. And believe us when we say you’ll be happy with the spectacular views from the top, which you can reach by climbing a purpose-built wooden staircase.
You can easily spend a day among the complex, investigating the ruins of 76 temples. Look out for the elephant sculptures adorning Prasat Damrei (Elephant Temple), the various depictions of the mythological Naga, and several detailed inscriptions etched into temple walls.
Yep, that’s right. There’s a pyramid slap bang in the middle of Rome. Why? Well, quite simply, the Romans loved a fad, and all things Egyptian were really popular from around 30 BCE to 12 BCE. So, when the powerful Roman magistrate Caius Cestius decided that he wanted to be entombed like an Egyptian monarch, nobody batted an eyelid.
At 36 metres high and made of white marble, the Pyramid of Cestius definitely stands out from the busy road and cemetery that lie on either side of it. The interior is like another world entirely, featuring ancient frescoes that were restored in 2015. Unfortunately, only the physical building and none of its contents survived all those years, having been ransacked at various stages throughout history.
Visitors can see inside the tomb on the second and fourth Saturday of every month. While you may not be able to look at bits of a decaying Roman, you can worship the local sphinxes at pyramid’s very own cat sanctuary. Just as the Egyptians would have wanted.
Well, this one’s a bit of a red herring. Back in 2005, a Bosnian businessman claimed that he had found the world’s oldest pyramids, not far from Sarajevo. The perfectly equilateral shape of the five hills in Visoko, and their position in relation to the sun, supposedly proves that they must have been man-made.
Unfortunately for Semir Osmanagić, the scientists disagree. They believe the hills are simply natural structures known as flatirons. In fact, a group of archaeologists even called his claims a “cruel hoax”. Unsurprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back his assertions that visiting the “pyramids” can help health conditions like hypertension and hyperglycaemia, either….