While history remains a mystery for most of us, the marvelous structures left behind by our ancestors are impossible to ignore. Pyramids are, without a doubt, one of the most puzzling and impressive accomplishments of ancient civilizations, spinning stories of centuries past. Discovering these breathtaking structures from around the globe not only reveals thier remarkable history, culture, and accomplishments but helps unveil the story of humanity itself. Because the closer we get to the past, the more we discover about ourselves, too.
As the oldest and largest structure from Egypt's Giza pyramid complex, The Great Pyramid, or Pyramid of Khufu, has been turning heads for thousands of years. Built between 2560-2540 BCE, this 481-foot pyramid is truly a sight to behold, and it's the only remaining structure from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A spectacular feat of human design, it took over 26 years to build and was once the world's tallest man-made structure at its original height of 500 feet and weight of six million tons.
Located in present-day Nasiriyah, Iraq, this magnificent masterpiece wasn't excavated until the 1920s. One of the only surviving structures from Sumerian society, this imposing pyramid stands 210 feet long, 148 feet wide, and 98 feet high. Once the administrative center of the ancient city of Ur, members of the Sumerian civilization relied on this ziggurat as the home of governance and a shrine to their moon god, Nanna. Completed in the 21st century BCE by King Shulgi, this ziggurat, and the city of Ur itself, grew to become the capital of a leading Mesopotamian state.
One of the best-preserved wonders of ancient Rome, this incredible 121-foot pyramid was constructed in 12 BCE as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a leading magistrate and member of Septemviri Epulonum. Plundered in antiquity, the pyramid wasn't opened again until 1660, when all that remained were decorative frescoes in the burial chamber. Today, barely any of those frescoes remain, and all other contents have been completely emptied, but visitors can still stop by for an immersive journey into the past.
Peten, Guatemala, houses these breathtaking structures, of which the tallest, Pyramid IV, stands 213 feet tall. Despite their majestic size and eminence in ancient civilizations, all five temple-pyramids remained forgotten deep in the rainforest for nearly 800 years until European explorers rediscovered them in the 1850s. This complex is just part of an immense ancient site containing over 3,000 structures dating to the fourth century BCE. Tikal, also known as Yax Mutal, was a vital city and center of life during the Mayan empire, flourishing from 200 to 900 CE, with historians estimating that people thrived at the site as far back as 1,000 BCE.
As one of the most formidable structures in Chichen Itza, now located in Yucatán State, Mexico, El Castillo is impossible not to notice. Standing 79 feet high, with an additional 20 feet for the temple on top, El Castillo was once the center of Mayan worship. It was built between the 8th and 12th centuries CE to honor Kukulcán; a feathered serpent deity worshiped by the ancient Maya. When spring and autumn equinoxes arrive, shadows evoke the illusion of a feathered serpent crawling down the pyramid, wowing 1.2 million annual visitors.
Pueblo, Mexico's Cholula Pyramid, is not only the largest temple site in Mesoamerica, but the most voluminous pyramid ever built. Used as a place of worship for the god Quetzalcoatl, the pyramid measures a breathtaking 1,480 feet x 1,480 feet. For comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza only measures 750 ft x 750 ft — making it only half the volume! A vital religious center, it was built in four stages, with workers dedicating their lives to its construction between the 3rd and 9th centuries CE.
Another splendor of ancient Egypt, the Red Pyramid, is part of the Dahshur necropolis in Cairo. Standing an impressive 341 feet tall and 720 feet wide, the rusty shade of the limestone is what gives the pyramid its name. Built by Pharaoh Sneferu between 2575 and 2551 BCE, historians and archeologists are unsure exactly what it was made for, but it contains three chambers with multiple passages to explore.
Egyptian splendors are truly never-ending, and the Pyramid of Djoser holds true to that promise. Regarded as the oldest man-made stone structure on Earth, it remains a vital part of the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis and was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser in the 27th century BCE. The pyramid is also the oldest colossal stone structure in Egypt, and it includes four sides and six levels with an original height of 205 feet and a base measuring 358 feet x 397 feet.
Like father, like son, built for Pharaoh Khafre, son of Khufu, this massive structure is the second largest of the three Giza pyramids. Built between 2558 and 2532 BCE, it wasn't explored again until 1818, when it was discovered entirely empty except for one remaining sarcophagus and its broken lid. Historians believe that the pyramid was looted after the end of the Old Kingdom between 2181–2055 BCE. A small funerary statue of Khafre was discovered during another expedition in 1858. Today, the structure stands an imposing 448 feet high, with a length of 706 feet.
Modern-day Chavin De Huantar, in the mountains of Peru, is home to this majestic temple complex built for the religious and political use of the ancient Chavin civilization. The complex contains two temples: one old and one new. Not only that, but visitors can find multiple structures and plazas to explore. Construction started in 1200 BCE, with significant additions in 750 BCE. Here, people used to celebrate, worship, and attend vital events for thousands of years.