Although the Great Pyramid of Egypt in Giza is by far the most popular pyramid in the world, it is not the largest in history. This title refers to the Great Pyramid of Cholula – the ancient Aztec temple in Puebla, Mexico, with a base four times larger than Giza, and almost twice as large. Why is it so often forgotten about the world’s largest pyramid? This may be because the giant structure is hidden under the layers of mud, which makes it more like a natural mountain than a place of worship.
In fact, it looks like a mountain that the famous Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes completely missed her and involuntarily built a church directly on top of her, as you can see in the image above.
To understand how great the Great Pyramid of Cholula is, we must return to well before Cortez and his army established the symbol of Christianity at the peak.
Known as Tlachihualtepetl (which means “artificial mountain”), the origins of the pyramid are a bit sketchy, although the general consensus is that it was built around 300 BC. Many different communities, to honor the ancient god Quetzalcoatl.
According to Zaria Gorvett for the BBC, the pyramid was most likely built using clay – a type of brick made from baked mud – and has six layers built on each of them for many generations. Each time the layer was completed, the construction was assembled by a new group of workers.
This gradual growth allowed the Great Pyramid of Cholula to become so large. With a base of 450 by 450 meters (1480 by 1480 feet), this is four times the size of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
In fact, at an altitude of about 66 meters (217 feet), the total volume of the pyramids is about 4.45 million cubic meters (157 million cubic feet), and the volume of the Great Pyramid of Gysas is only 2.5 million cubic meters (88.2 million cubic feet) .
The Great Pyramid of Giza is higher, although at an altitude of 146 meters (481 feet).
The ancient Aztecs, most likely, used the Great Pyramid of Cholula as a place of worship for about 1000 years before moving to a new, smaller place nearby.
Before it was replaced by new structures, it was carefully decorated with red, black and yellow insects. But without maintenance clay bricks were left to do what makes mud in the humid climate – provide nutrients for all kinds of tropical greens.
“It was abandoned somewhere in the seventh or eighth century of our era,” archaeologist David Carballo of Boston University said in an interview with the BBC. “In Choluteca appeared a new pyramidal temple, located nearby, which the Spaniards destroyed.”
When Cortez and his men arrived in Cholula in October 1519, 1,800 years after the pyramid was built, within one hour they destroyed about 3,000 people-10 percent of the city’s population-and aligned many of their religious structures.
But they never touched the pyramid, because they never found it.
In 1594, settling in the city and asserting it for themselves, they built a church – the Church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios (“The Virgin of Medicines”), on top of the hidden mountain of the pyramids.
La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios. Credit: Rus Bowling / Flickr
It’s unclear whether the Aztecs knew that clay bricks would encourage everything to grow over all of this and eventually bury the whole structure, but the fact that it is more like a hill than a pyramid is probably the only reason why it is still Pores survive.
And also good, because according to the BBC, it is not only the world’s largest pyramid, it retains the name of the largest monument ever built anywhere on Earth, by any civilization, to this day.
The pyramid was not discovered until the early 1900s, when local residents began building a psychiatric ward nearby. By the 1930s, archaeologists began to open it, creating a series of tunnels 8 km long (5 miles) long to give them access.
Now, after more than 2300 years after its initial construction, the site has become a tourist center.
We hope that our ability to study important sites using non-invasive tools continues to improve, archaeologists will get a better idea of how the structure was constructed, by whom and how it looked like a mountain.