For millennia, pyramids have been beguiling humankind with their striking triangular-shaped appearances. The thought of these symmetrical structures may instantly bring Egypt to mind — this is, after all, the country of the Pyramids of Giza, which were built as royal tombs for pharaohs. But while Egypt might have the most famous pyramids, that only scratches the surface of the weird and wonderful pyramidal structures around the world, both natural and human-made. From a black lava cone set on a salt flat in northwestern Argentina to the entrance to Paris’ Louvre Museum, check out these 16 fascinating pyramids that aren’t located in Egypt.
Cono de Arita (Salta, Argentina)
In the wilderness of the arid Atacama Plateau in northwestern Argentina stands one of the most perfectly formed natural pyramids on the planet. The Cono de Arita is a prodigious conical pyramid that rises out of the Salar de Arizaro, the world’s sixth-largest salt flat. For many years, popular belief was that the 650-foot-tall pyramid was a human-made structure. However, in reality, it’s the summit of a volcano that was too weak to break the Earth’s crust and thus never erupted to form a crater. Encompassed by a vast sea of salt, the remarkable sight could easily be mistaken for a floating volcano. The remote location makes the Cono de Arita a rarely visited landmark, and those who do visit must arrive in a 4WD vehicle. Archaeological studies in the area have linked the cone to a ceremonial site used prior to the Incan era.
El Castillo (Xunantunich, Belize)
Set on a ridge above the Mopan River in western Belize, El Castillo is the centerpiece of the Maya archaeological site of Xunantunich. The pyramid rises to a height of 130 feet and is the second-tallest structure in the country — only the Maya temple of Caracol eclipses it. El Castillo was constructed around 800 CE and served as a mixed-use complex that included administrative quarters, sleeping areas, and a shrine. Its exterior is notable for large stucco friezes that represent Maya mythology, the sun, the moon, and the planets. The landmark also has its own resident ghost called the Stone Woman. She first appeared in the late 1800s dressed in a long white dress and with distinctive red eyes. According to legend, the ghost has been spotted climbing the pyramid’s steps before disappearing into a cavern.
Earth Pyramids of Ritten (South Tyrol, Italy)
One of the last places one might expect to find a group of pyramids is in the Alps of Italy’s South Tyrol region. Yet, nestled among the cliffs and gorges of Rittner Horn mountain are the Earth Pyramids of Ritten, which appear in spellbinding clusters surrounded by emerald green forests. Their curious shapes and stark color may appear otherworldly, but there’s a scientific reason for them. The pyramids began to form in the Ice Age when glaciers melted and left behind deposits of moraine clay soil. Rain turns this soil into a soft mass that erodes into pyramid-like shapes. Whenever the soil contains rocks, a pyramid becomes protected from the rain and could survive for thousands of years. Some even appear to have a stone carefully balanced at the top, and if the stone falls, the pyramid will then erode away. A great way to experience this phenomenal site is via the Ritten Cable Car and narrow-gauge Renon Railway.
Great Pyramid of Cholula (Puebla, Mexico)
When Hernan Cortez and his Spanish troops arrived in Cholula (in present-day Mexico) in the 1500s, they set about looting the religious treasures of the pre-Colombian residents and later replaced the temples with colonial churches, including the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios atop a huge grassy hill. What they didn’t know was that the hill was hiding the world’s largest pyramid by volume. The Great Pyramid of Cholula (or Tlachihualtepetl, meaning “man-made mountain” in the Nahuatl language) measures 1,476 feet wide and 216 feet tall. Archeologists believe construction of the pyramid began around 300 BCE but aren’t sure exactly who built it. It’s also unclear whether it became overgrown naturally or if the Aztecs covered it to hide it from the Spanish. Visitors today can explore the architectural masterpiece via a five-mile network of tunnels.
Louvre Pyramid (Paris, France)
Alongside the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, one of the most emblematic (and newer) monuments of Paris is the Louvre Pyramid. Inspired by the Great Pyramid of Giza and designed by renowned Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, the glass-and-metal structure serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum’s three pavilions. It was unveiled in 1989 as part of the decade-long Grand Louvre project, initiated by President Francois Mitterrand to expand and improve the museum. The pyramid has a height of 71 feet and features 603 rhombus and 70 triangular-shaped glass panels. It’s a modern reminder of the museum’s Egyptian Antiquities exhibitions, although it was originally met with criticism. Many felt that it didn’t fit with the area’s classic French buildings. Despite this, three smaller pyramids were built around the entrance as light shafts, and there’s also an inverted pyramid that serves as a skylight for the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall.
The Luxor Hotel (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Where else in the world could you expect to find a hotel modeled on the Great Pyramid of Giza than in Las Vegas? The imposing black pyramid of the Luxor Resort and Casino is a 30-story skyscraper home to more than 2,500 guest rooms, along with restaurants, gambling, and entertainment venues. Opened in 1993, it cost $375 million to build. Guests can access the rooms via specially designed inclinators, which are elevators that travel diagonally up the corners of the building’s interior. The hotel is one of the first landmarks visitors see when arriving at Las Vegas airport, especially at night, when it projects a light called the Luxor Sky Beam that is visible from 250 miles away when the weather is clear. In keeping with the Egyptian theme, next to the pyramid is a replica of the Great Sphinx, which is taller than the original in Giza.
Mad Jack Fuller’s Pyramid (East Sussex, England)
Pyramids don’t have to be ancient or multi-million dollar structures to grab our attention. One such example: In the churchyard of a quiet countryside village in South East England is “Mad Jack” Fuller Pyramid. This 25-foot-tall mausoleum is the final resting place of an outspoken former British politician. John "Mad Jack" Fuller brandished his eccentric image with his desire to turn his wealth into a legacy by constructing unique monuments. His pyramid-turned-mausoleum was built in 1811, more than two decades prior to his death. For over a century, local legends added to the flamboyance of Fuller’s life. He was said to be buried dressed in a suit and top hat and seated at a table with a bottle of port wine and a roast chicken. Restoration in 1982 work debunked this myth when he was found buried in the traditional way beneath the pyramid’s floor.
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan)
The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation looms over the sprawling gardens of Nur-Sultan’s Presidential Park. Soaring 203 feet into the air above Kazakhstan’s capital city, it is one of the tallest pyramid structures in the world. The palace was designed as a venue for an interfaith forum called the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Inside it has accommodations for various faiths, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. There’s a 1,500-seat opera house, a museum, a library, and a research center for Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups. The building, designed by acclaimed British architects Foster and Partners, consists of five stories of triangles. British painter Brian Clarke contributed the stained-glass images of doves set against the sky, which are located on the upper two stories. The pale blue and golden color scheme of the pyramid’s apex was chosen to represent the Kazakh flag.
Pyramid of Cestius (Rome, Italy)
After the Romans took control of Egypt in 30 BCE, original Egyptian monuments and exquisite replicas began to appear across Rome. While most were the obelisks used to decorate forums and piazzas, arguably the most interesting is the Pyramid of Cestius. The 120-foot-tall pyramid dates back to between 18 and 12 BCE during the reign of Emperor Augustus and is the only one of its kind in the city. Built from brick and white marble, it is the tomb of magistrate and politician Caius Cestius. An inscription in Latin explains that Cestius demanded that his heirs complete the tomb within 330 days after his death in order to receive their inheritance. In the third century CE, the pyramid was enclosed by the Aurelian walls, and it now stands opposite the Porta San Paolo entrance. English poet Thomas Hardy famously wrote the poem “Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats” with his thoughts on the landmark.
Pyramids of Güímar (Tenerife, Spain)
On the eastern side of the island of Tenerife stand six stepped pyramids whose origins have caused great debate among archaeologists and historians. The Pyramids of Güímar are terraced structures made of lava stone that bear striking resemblances to the Aztec temples of Central America. In 1991, Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl relocated to Tenerife to study the pyramids and established the Pyramids of Güímar Ethnographic Park to help preserve them. Heyerdahl hypothesized that the pyramids formed part of a transatlantic link between Africa and Central America. He had previously proved that it was possible to sail between the continents by traveling from Morocco to Barbados on a papyrus ship in 1971. Another theory was put forward by a team of Spanish astrophysicists. They remarked that the pyramids are positioned according to the solstices and were designed based on Masonic symbolism. But it could also be a simpler explanation: that the six landmarks are the result of local farmers clearing land for cultivation in the 19th century.
Pyramids of Meroë (Meroë, Sudan)
The ancient city of Meroë is surrounded by remote desert lands on the eastern bank of the Nile River in Sudan. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, an empire ruled by Nubian kings and queens that thrived between 1069 BCE and 350 CE. The Kushites have drawn many similarities to the ancient Egyptians and, like their North African neighbors, built pyramids as royal tombs. There are approximately 200 of these structures situated around Meroë, each characterized by a narrow base, steep sides, and stone gateways. Inside, carved reliefs and hieroglyphics with Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences decorate the walls. In the 1800s, the tops were removed on several pyramids, when Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini smashed them off in his quest to find treasures. Some of the plundered artifacts are now on display at the State Museum of Egyptian Art of Munich and the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.
Pyramids of Teotihuacán (Teotihuacan, Mexico)
Teotihuacán, located in modern-day Mexico, was once the most influential pre-Columbian city in Mesoamerica. People first settled here around 400 BCE, and it reached its height in 400 CE. When the Aztecs arrived in the 1400s, they found a great city filled with majestic temples and pyramids. They named it Teotihuacán, which means “the place where gods were created.” The Pyramids of Teotihuacán line up along a ceremonial street known as the Avenue of the Dead. At the northern end is the 140-foot-tall Pyramid of the Moon, and to the south stands the gigantic 216-foot Pyramid of the Sun. The southern end of the avenue is dominated by the Temple of the Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent). Historians are still unsure who constructed this pre-Hispanic city, but it’s thought that it was built between the first and seventh centuries CE.
Pyramids of Tikal (Tikal, Guatemala)
Deep in the verdant jungle of northeastern Guatemala is the mystical and UNESCO-listed Tikal National Park. This is the site of a one-time vast Maya city-state that thrived from around 600 BCE to 900 CE. At its height in the eighth century, some 60,000 Mayans were thought to live here. The architectural highlight of the park is a collection of five stepped pyramids, which were built to honor gods and are crowned with temples. They range from 125 to 213 feet tall and are adorned with ancient glyphs. Pyramid IV is one of the tallest Maya pyramids ever built. Visitors can climb to the top and see the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding jungle. The park is also home to the Lost World, a complex of pyramids that were used as astronomical observatories. Artistic features here have strong connections with the ruins of Teotihuacán.
Slovak Radio Building (Bratislava, Slovakia)
While most pyramidal buildings feature a square base and sloping sides that rise up to a pinnacle, the Slovak Radio Building is the exact opposite. This dramatic inverted pyramid was built in a time when socialist realism was prevalent throughout the Eastern Bloc. The entire project took over 20 years to complete. Two rounds of design competitions took place in 1962 and 1963, and the eventual winners oversaw the construction between 1967 and 1983. The building consists of two upside-down pyramids. Within the inner structure is a concert hall and the recording studios and cutting rooms of the radio station. The outer structure predominantly acts as a sound wall and also houses offices. As often happens with unusual architectural projects, the buildings have divided opinion. In 2018, The Telegraph ranked it among its list of the world’s ugliest buildings.
Walshs Pyramid (Wooroonooran, Australia)
Seen from afar, the 3,025-foot-tall Walshs Pyramid looks like a human-made landmark that has been overgrown by vegetation. However, it is the highest free-standing natural pyramid in the world. This huge granite hill, which looms over the northern corner of Wooroonooran National Park, formed naturally when the weaker metamorphic rocks that surround it eroded over time. For the adventurous, Walshs Pyramid presents a challenging summit hike. It offers a glimpse of a topography that changes from eucalyptus woodland to shrubland and rock ferns. Panoramic views from the top reach over sugarcane fields, mountain ranges, and the coastline of northern Queensland. The Great Pyramid Race is an annual endurance race that takes place at the hill, which sees competitors race over a 7.5-mile-long course from the town of Gordonvale to the summit and back.
Ziggurat of Ur (Nasiriyah, Iraq)
Ziggurats are among the great architectural inventions of the ancient region of Mesopotamia. Built as administrative centers and religious monuments, they featured a pyramidal structure with terraced levels, accessed via exterior staircases. The Ziggurat of Ur is one of the world’s most impressive ziggurats and among the oldest pyramids on the planet. It was erected around 2,100 BCE in Ur (modern-day Iraq) by King Ur Nammu, who founded the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur. During its heyday, this three-tier pyramid was part of a temple complex and administrative center for the city. A shrine dedicated to the moon god Nanna once stood on the top. Ziggurat of Ur has been restored twice in its long history. The first time was by Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, in the sixth century BCE. Almost 2,400 years later, the facade and monumental staircases were restored in the 1980s.