Workers toiling in the hot sun at a time before the birth of Jesus Christ. Building what would become the world’s largest pyramid. A pyramid being built for religious reasons. A pyramid which would be used for sacred burials…
Over time archeologists explored this great pyramid. And they learned about chambers and altars in this pyramid. And they found paintings on the walls. And they found human remains. All of this and more – in the world’s largest pyramid…
If you guessed that the above description is about the Great Pyramid of Giza, then this is understandable. This is the world’s most famous pyramid, and it is also the world’s TALLEST pyramid. However, believe it or not, it is not the world’s LARGEST pyramid.
‘Tallest’ of course refers to the height of a pyramid. The term ‘Largest’ refers to the volume of a pyramid, which is calculated by taking 1/3 of the product of the height and the area of the base. The pyramid being referred to above is larger in volume than the Great Pyramid of Giza – twice as large!
Two other facts of interest before we get to details about this pyramid:
- Not only is this pyramid the world’s largest pyramid, it is actually the largest monument of any type ever built anywhere in the world!
- When a world famous explorer reached the site of this pyramid a few hundred years ago, he and his entire army completely missed seeing this and were never even aware of this pyramid – despite it being right in front of them!
The pyramid being referred to is the Great Pyramid of Cholula – an Aztec temple in southern Mexico. Work on this pyramid started in the third century B. C., and this temple was initially dedicated to their god Quetzalcoatl. This pyramid was built via consecutive phases over time through the ninth century A. D.
With regards to its size, its height is 217 feet (66 meters), and its base is 1480 by 1480 square feet (450 by 450 square meters). This gives it a volume of 157 million cubic feet (4.45 million cubic meters). The Great Pyramid of Giza is much taller with a height of 455 feet (139 meters), but the sides are smaller at 756 feet (230 meters) per side. This gives it a volume of 88.2 million cubic feet (2.5 million cubic meters).
The pyramid was built with adobe (baked mud) and was built in six consecutive layers over time. Cholula itself was a fairly wealthy city and was a major center of trade. Eventually, the pyramid was abandoned around the eighth century A.D.
The explorer mentioned above is Hernan Cortes, who arrived in Cholula in October, 1519. But by this time, the pyramid was completely covered with grass, soil, and trees, such that it looked like a mountain. It is believed that this growth was due to the usage of adobe bricks for the construction of this pyramid. Due to this growth, Cortes and his men were never aware that they were at this pyramid. They even climbed to the top and built a church at the top, without ever knowing about this pyramid!
The pyramid remained hidden and forgotten until archeologists discovered this pyramid in 1910 while building a mental asylum. It is now a popular tourist site, and five miles of tunnels have been dug to enable tourists to walk through parts of this pyramid. It was decided not to extensively excavate this pyramid, so research is primarily being done via non-invasive methods (e.g., remote sensing).
This is the story of the largest pyramid in the world. It was lost to history for centuries, and even though rediscovered over 100 years ago, it is not very well known outside of Mexico. But it is truly an amazing achievement, and hopefully the Great Pyramid of Cholula will gain more recognition and popularity in the future.