Grand Tour: The Great Pyramid of Cholula

Hidden beneath a hill in central Mexico lies the world's largest pyramid. 

The Great Pyramid of Cholula

Puebla, Mexico

200 BC

Excavated part of the pyramidThe world’s largest pyramid is not in Egypt, but is hidden beneath a hill in a small town in the central Mexican state of Puebla. Known variously as the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Pirámide Tepanapa, or, in the indigenous Nahuatl language, Tlachihualtepetl, or ‘artificial mountain’, the structure measures 400 square metres and has a total volume of 4.45 million cubic metres, almost twice that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was first constructed around 200 BC and expanded or rebuilt several times over the following centuries by different cultures, including the Olmecs, Toltecs and Aztecs. According to Aztec mythology, it was built by Xelhua, a giant whose daring edifice so upset the gods that they hurled fire on it. 

Artist's impression of the pyramid at its height

At its height over 100,000 people lived around the pyramid, although by the time the Spanish arrived in 1520 it had become covered by dirt and was hidden from view, with newer temples constructed on its outskirts. Hernán Cortés and his men slaughtered many of the Cholulans, probably to scare the inhabitants of the nearby Aztec capital Tenochtitlan into submission, but, to judge by the church they built on top (still standing today), the Spanish were clearly unaware of the hill’s true nature. The pyramid was re-discovered in the late 19th century and since then archaeologists have begun to excavate the network of tunnels that run through its base. 

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