My fearless adventurers, I am here to recover from our long ride under the bridges of Rome, enjoying a well-deserved drink with my friends from 47 boutique hotel’s marketing department. The girls are very fascinated by our adventures and seem to know a lot about this magnificent city.
Now in front of this stunning view at the roof one of them, la Carla, decides to tell me a story:
“A long time ago (between 18 and 12 BC), in Rome, lived Caius Cestius (Gaius Cestius Epulo ndr) a very rich man. It was foretold that his death would have been caused by lightning; to prevent this from happening, he had a pyramid built where he could live and from which to go out exclusively on sunny days. During a beautiful spring day Caio went out for a walk but, admiring the beauties that surrounded him, he walked away from his pyramid. The sky suddenly darkened and despite the mad rush to go back home, right in front of the door, poor Cestio was struck by lightning and died!”…
Ok… The story has something tragicomic, but did you understand? In Rome there is a pyramid!!!
I leave my young friend at the rooftop and I let her give me a charge, this news is very appetizing for the “Indiana Jones” like us!
Not far from the 47, in the Ostiense district, the height of one of the strangest buildings of Rome stands out in the traffic: the Pyramid of Cestius!
Logically la Carla’s story is not real, it is pure legend, but the protagonist did actually exist and the pyramid has been created in his name. According to the information transcribed on the façade, we can understand that Caio Cestio was a praetor of Rome, tribune of the plebs and settemviro epulone (the one who had the task of organizing banquets in honor of Roman divinities).
The other inscription is slightly more disturbing, in fact it states that the pyramid, by testamentary will, had to be built in 330 days, under penalty of cancellation of the conspicuous inheritance of the praetor.
To think that a monument was built the 330 days before the year zero and it is still here, practically intact in front of our headlights, makes me think a lot, isn’t it?
In that period the “Egyptian style” was very fashionable in Rome because in 30 BC Egypt became a Roman province and pyramids were built for the whole empire.
The Pyramid of Cestius is the only survivor over the years, together with the obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio.
At the time of its construction the pyramid was a part of a more articulated architectural complex, enclosed in tufa blocks and with four columns built at the four corners of the pyramid itself. There are only two columns left, taken back to their original positions only in 1656.
Actually, if we look carefully, the pyramid is slightly different from those typical of Egypt. In particular, the top is sharper, probably due to the materials used for its construction: in fact, the Romans used the concrete that the Egyptians did not know yet.
In the Middle Ages it was thought that the mausoleum was actually the tomb of Remus and that the pyramid, that once stood near St. Peter (called Meta Romuli), was the tomb of his brother Romulus. This rumors went on until the Meta Romuli Pyramid was demolished (at the behest of Alexander VI Borgia) and the Romans noticed the inscriptions I mentioned before, on the Pyramid of Cestius (1600).
I suggest you to follow me to the non-Catholic cemetery (via Caio Cestio 6) to see the whole pyramid at its best.
Since we are here, I would like to take a ride in this “special” place, what do you think?
The cemetery is usually associated with a sad thought, almost creepy… This one undoubtedly not! The non-Catholic cemetery of Rome is one of the most “pleasant” and romantic places in the city. This place is known as “Englishmen’s Cemetery” or “Cemetery of the artists” and is located inside Testaccio district. This place hosts all those personalities, mostly English and German, who were not of Catholic religion and who were staying in Rome between the 18th and 19th centuries. The cemetery came to life (sorry for the pun) because the papal state imposed the absolute prohibition of burying those considered “unfaithful” (not baptized) in consecrated ground. Also for this reason, the ceremonies in this place were always hold at night, in order to avoid any possible demonstration by religious fanatics; furthermore, until the 19th century the area was not delimited by any border and it becomes rather dangerous to wander around here in the morning.
This beautiful cemetery was a must-see for all the writers and romantic poets of the time, such as Goethe (whose son is buried here), Melville and Shelley, who even dedicated verses to this place, describing how easy it was to “fall in love with death at the thought of being buried in such a delightful place”. Henry James described it “a mixture of tears and smiles, of stones and flowers, of cypresses in mourning, of a luminous sky, which gives us the impression of turning our gaze to death from the happier side of the tomb”.
Near to this magical place we find another fascinating one: the Commonwealth Cemetery! It looks like a small garden in the area formerly called “the meadows of Roman people”. It hosts 426 tombs and was built after the troops entered Rome in 1944. At the entrance we find the Latin and English inscription that reminds us of the hard war and the soldiers who lost their lives. Here sobriety and order reign supreme.
Now I have to go back to my girls and tell them everything we’ve seen, but above hear from them new inspiring stories for our adventures…
See you soon!