THE WORLD’S 15 TALLEST PYRAMIDS
The pyramid began as the best way to build tall, massive structures using only stone blocks. Less weight on top and more weight on the bottom meant less cracking and crumbling and less sophisticated engineering necessary; the sturdiest method to build with only raw materials. Modern pyramidal forms, now exceeding 1,000 feet, are today utilized for their visual qualities, not out of building necessity.
The earliest ancient pyramids are still mysterious. Methods of construction in ancient Egypt were subsequently lost to later builders. But, consider the simplicity of the design and construction of a pyramid (not that it was easy) and you can understand why the most exploitive and demonstrative of early civilizations built them- societies from Egypt to China to Mexico. They are a representation of hierarchical order and dominance.
Many buildings on this list may not be “true” pyramids. They may not be 5-sided; they may include some earthworks; and they may have curved sides. While it is debatable what actually constitutes a ‘pyramid’, I think you can agree these are all the descendants of the ancients.
Regardless, these buildings are pointy.
Here are the 15 tallest in the world, year 2013 AD:
THE GREAT PYRAMID OF CHOLULA
outside of Puebla, Mexico
(300 BC – 800 AD), 180′ / 55m
The largest pyramid, as well as the largest monument ever constructed, The Cholula pyramid was built slowly from the 3rd century BC to the 9th century AD. This fella’s got girth.
Today, the pyramid appears as a hill topped by a church. The Catholic church has always had a knack for reusing religious sites and in 1575 completed a pretty spectacular cathedral atop the ancient pyramid. Oh snap.
PALACE OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
(2006), 203′ / 62m
Norman Foster’s group designed this one.
(741 AD) 212′ / 64m
Tikal IV is the tallest standing pyramid of the Mayan era in Mexico. Watching the sunrise from Tikal IV is one of the few things in the world worth waking up so early for.
PYRAMID OF THE SUN
north of Mexico City, Mexico
(c. 100 AD) 233′ / 72m
Before colonial times, this was the centerpiece of the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. Scholars can’t agree on which civilization built it, but the Aztecs later adopted it, gave it a name (Teotihuacan), and used it in human sacrifice.
MAUSOLEUM OF THE FIRST QIN EMPEROR
near Xian, China
(208 BC) 236′ / 72m
Xian- China’s most historically consistent capital city. Due to its importance in Chinese dynastic history, Xian is also home to the most pyramids in Chinese civilization- scattered throughout its peripheral countryside.
Years ago, I read multiple historical Western reports of a 1,000-foot-tall “White Pyramid” near here that doesn’t seem to actually exist. Speculation has it that these Western traders and pilots that reported seeing this spectacular white pyramid may actually have seen the First Qin Emperor Mausoleum instead.
(1991), 321′ (98m)
Memphis, you shouldn’t have. Imagine that Cousin Eddie became an architect…
(c. 2600 BC), 332′ / 101m
The Bent Pyramid should be more famous. Of Egypt’s 90 or so pyramids, the Bent is the only one whose original polished limestone remains relatively intact. The most obvious articulation is the 11-degree change in slope that happens about halfway up the pyramid. Most likely, the architects realized that they were building too steeply and began building at a more humble angle. Whoops.
THE RED PYRAMID
(c 2580 BC), 341′ / 104m
Once the tallest structure in the world and apparently the first-ever attempt at a true smooth-sided pyramid.
Las Vegas, USA
(1993 AD), 365′ / 111m
Of course. Las Vegas has one. Convenient parking, too.
‘PYRAMID OF KHAFRE’ OF GIZA
(c. 2530 BC), 449′ / 137m
THE ‘GREAT PYRAMID’ OF GIZA
(c. 2560 BC), 455′ / 139m
In its current state and environment, not the most beautiful pyramid in the world, but certainly the most famous. This was the tallest manmade structure in the world for 3,800 years (the Lincoln Cathedral in England displaced it around 1300 AD).
San Francisco, USA
(1972), 853′ / 260m
In a city that considers itself to be democratic, or even anarchist, a pyramid is an ironic symbol of San Francisco.
Built atop the site of a saloon that Mark Twain frequented, and a newspaper office where Sun Yat-Sen wrote the Proclamation of the Republic of China, this site has always been at the heart of the city. And, the city has always had a love/hate relationship with this tower.
First, there is no public access or observation deck. Second, it has those awkward tampon wings (they hold the elevator shafts). Overall, the design was considered too futuristic for a city with such wonderful traditional architecture.
But, the tower has aged wonderfully and is today an irreplaceable icon.
I’ve always liked the building. The pyramidal shape allows extra California sunshine to reach the street below. It makes a great visual terminus on Columbus Avenue in North Beach- a vista much more impressive and articulate than the Flatiron Building on Broadway in Manhattan. Though it is relatively new in the city’s history, it has that quirky authority that it has always been there, and always will be.
AL FAISALIYA CENTER
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
(2000), 876′ / 267m
Pyramid by way of a ballpoint pen. I know, the facades all have a slight curve, meaning it’s not a true pyramid. But since other exceptions have been made, I must put this one on the list, too.
(2012), 998′ / 304m
The Shard, an 87-storey tower, was completed in 2012 and is the tallest building in Europe.
The design of the building, done by Renzo Piano, was inspired by sailing masts and historic cathedral towers, not the great pyramids of Egypt, or San Francisco.
Pyongyang, North Korea
(1987-1992; 2008-2012), 1,087′ / 330m
Utilizing design lessons from Back to the Future II, the Ryugyang Hotel has stood for over 20 years as one of architectures biggest boners.
Constructed over a five-year period, and then aborted in 1992 due to an economic crisis and the fall of the Soviet Union, and again resumed in 2008, the building is not yet opened, and still serves no purpose, but may one day hold the title of world’s tallest hotel.
Like another iconic communist tower- the 1969 Fernsehturm tower in East Germany, the Ryugyang Hotel’s also serves the purpose of showing strength in the face of the West.
HONORABLE MENTION (lets wait and see…)
Visoko, just outside Sarajevo, Bosnia
(10,000 BC?), 720′ / 219m
This pyramid, or natural hill (depending on who you ask), was “discovered” in 2005 and ever since scientists from around the world have disagreed as to whether is is manmade or natural. If it does in fact turn out to be a manmade pyramid, it will be the centerpiece of the largest pyramidal complex discovered on Earth, dwarfing Egypt in size and age.