Mexico / Places We Go

The Largest Pyramid In The World (It’s Probably Not What You Think It Is)

The largest pyramid in the world is the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico. Never heard of it? Surprisingly few people have…

However, the Guinness Book of World Records, has documented that the Great Pyramid of Cholula is not only the largest pyramid in the world, but is also the largest monument constructed anywhere in the world. Ever.

Today, the pyramid appears at first glance to be a natural hill overlooking the town of Cholula with a church perched upon the top. This church is the Nuestra Senora de los Remedios (Our Lady of the Remedies) and is one of the reasons that more people are not familiar with the Great Pyramid of Cholula:

largest-pyramid-in-the-world

The church was built by the Spanish in 1594 right on top of the pyramid (the Catholic Church has been fond of repurposing historical religious sites for quite some time) and is now a major Catholic pilgrimage destination. Due to the religious and historical significance of the church, which is a designated colonial monument, the Great Pyramid of Cholula as a whole has not been excavated and restored, as the smaller, but more famous pyramids at sites such as Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza and Monte Alban have. (I don’t believe many visitors realize that the better known pyramid sites in Mexico are all reconstructions, but the tourists seem to like it).

Due to the surface conditions described above and the large number of artifacts just under the surface, it is not possible to reconstruct the Great Pyramid of Cholula to what it once was. And so, without this reconstruction, the pyramid just does not receive the attention of its smaller neighbors.

*****

As the hub of Olmec, Toltec and Aztec religious centers, the Great Pyramid was not built overnight. Over a period of a thousand years prior to the Spanish Conquest, consecutive construction phases gradually built up the bulk of the pyramid until its peak around the 8th century:

cholula-great-pyramid

Everyone knows that the ancient cultures in this region of the world were keen on human sacrifice and given the number of mangled body parts and skulls from decapitated victims that have been found here, those connected to the Great Pyramid were, obviously, no exception.

This altar below contained two severely deformed skulls of decapitated children in the way of an offering in front of its stairway on the west side:

altar-great-pyramid-cholula

Below is a picture of a model of the layout of the Great Pyramid of Cholula that will, hopefully, assist you, my dear readers, in better visualizing this site. This photo is courtesy of Alejandro Linares Garcia:

model-great-pyramid-cholula

This section of the pyramid pictured below corresponds to the section on the far left of the model above.

Bear in mind that before being abandoned, the pyramid was painted in brilliant colors and – at least on this section – with elaborate designs of skulls and snails:

Gran-Piramide-cholula

Tlachihualtepetl

A view from a public square in Cholula of the stairs pictured above:

Great-Pyramid-cholula

Ignacio Marquina was the first to excavate tunnels into the pyramid in order to prove that el cerrito (the hill), as many still call it, was, in fact, an archaeological treasure trove.

Following the excavation of these tunnels from 1930 to 1956 and again from 1964 to 1972, there are today more than five miles of tunnels winding through the different levels of the pyramid:

tunnels-great-pyramid-cholula

This is one of several stairways leading up the side of the pyramid to…

biggest-pyramid-in-the-world

…the church on top:

Our-Lady-of-the-Remedies-cholula

Nuestra-Senora-de-los-Remedios-cholula

Virgin-of-the-Remedies-of-Cholula

The Great Pyramid of Cholula accounts for only six hectares of what is an archaeological heritage site believed to extend over at least 154 hectares… Unfortunately, 90 hectares of this land is privately owned, and the owners are fiercely resistant to further archaeological exploration. Thus, despite the pyramid’s importance to the history of central Mexico, it has not been extensively studied and has not yet played a significant role in the understanding of Mesoamerica.

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4 thoughts on “The Largest Pyramid In The World (It’s Probably Not What You Think It Is)

  1. Jason

    Nice piece although it is not clear that this is the largest Pyramid, notwithstanding the Guiness Book of Records. The Great Pyramid at Giza was certainly higher and has a greater perimeter than the main part of Cholula so maybe, as with so many things it depends on how you measure?
    Keep those reports coming!

    • No, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is not the highest pyramid in the world, but when the total volume of the pyramid is calculated, its size is staggering. The record was based on the total volume of the pyramid. Like you said, it comes down to how one measures their pyramids :)

  2. Pingback: Cholula, Mexico | The Velvet Rocket

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