A Side-by-side comparison of the Great Pyramid of Giza and Cholula. Shutterstock / Curiosmos.

Unwritten Mystery: Here’s How The Largest Pyramid on Earth Compares to Egypt’s Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid of Giza is not the largest pyramid on Earth.

The most famous pyramid on the surface of the planet is without a doubt the Great Pyramid of Giza. According to Egyptologists, this ancient wonder of engineering is thought to have been completed some 4,500 years ago, during the Fourth Dynasty reign of King Khufu. It wasn’t Egypt’s first pyramid, but was nonetheless its most complex and largest, and marked the zenith of Egyptian pyramid architecture.

For me, the journey to building the Great Pyramid is as stunning as the Great Pyramid itself, a monument said to weigh around 6 million tons.

I have previously explained the history of Egyptian pyramids (according to mainstream Egyptology), and won’t be getting into detail in this article, but you can check out what I wrote here.

What I am about to write is my view on the pyramids, but based on the mainstream chronology of Egypt. I feel a need to mention this because countless people send me messages and emails saying that they don’t agree on the age of the Great Pyramid, and ask me why I blindly believe in it myself. I don’t, but I feel a need to mention it when going through an article like this.

The history of the Egyptian pyramid can be traced back to the Third dynasty reign of Djoser when everything about ancient Egyptian architecture was redesigned. Perhaps unwillingly, Djoser’s royal architect Imhotep planned, designed, and went on to build a monument that had never before been witnessed in ancient Egypt.

Djoser’s step pyramid is thought to have started off as a square mastaba and was gradually enlarged in as many as six distinct constructions across 19 years. A square mastaba was changed into a rectangular one, and again into the first square design of the pyramid. After six superimposed mastabas, the proto pyramid was finished and Egypt’s first pyramid was born.

What followed was strange; a Step Pyramid would never again be built, although there are indications that a few Pharaohs after Djoser had attempted in replicating Djoser’s Step Pyramid Complex. Then, in the Fourth Dynasty, when Sneferu took the throne of Egypt, a Pyramidomania began in Egypt. Sneferu is credited with having built three major pyramids.

Egyptologists say that Sneferu commissioned the Pyramid at Meidum and the Bent and Red Pyramid at Dahshur. Eventually, he would go on and lay down the foundations for the construction of the Great Pyramid with his Red Pyramid, Egypt’s third-largest pyramid.

Sneferu’s son Khufu is believed to have commissioned the Great Pyramid early in his reign, and its construction is thought to have taken anywhere between 10 to 20 years, depending on which “expert” you consult.

Below, I am going to lay down the characteristics of the Great Pyramid, then the Great Pyramid of Cholula—the largest on Earth, as well as their similarities and differences.

Although it is the largest in Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza is not the largest on Earth, although it is the tallest pyramid ever built. Just as the pyramid of Djoser was built in stages, the Great Pyramid was likely too built in different phases during which the pyramid was enlarged.

As I have explained in this article, there is direct evidence that the Great Pyramid of Giza may have started off as a much smaller pyramid, and that it was enlarged during history at least three different times. This makes sense as it would have been particularly challenging—although not impossible—in ancient times to build such a massive pyramid. The first addition to the Great Pyramid would have taken place after the first chamber of the pyramid was completed.

Measurements of the pyramid suggest that the builders used approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone. Of these, experts believed they used 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tons of mortar. It is particularly interesting to know that the granite was imported from Aswan’s quarries located over 800 kilometers away, in Upper Egypt. some of the heaviest stones used in the construction of the pyramid—the granite blocks inside the King’s chamber weigh 25 to 80 tons.

With a base length of 230.34 meters (756 ft) or 440 Egyptian Royal cubits, the Great Pyramid has a total volume of 2,583,283 cubic meters (91,227,778 cu ft. When it was completed, and with its capstone in place, it is believed to had a height of 146.7 meters (481 ft) or 280 Egyptian Royal. Today, void of its summit, the Great Pyramid measures 138.8 meters in height.

The Great Pyramid was covered in highly polished limestone blocks which are thought to have been quarried at Tura, across the Nile River, and transported via boats to Giza. This means that the Great Pyramid was a “white” pyramid, and was probably covered by a golden capstone. The white limestone made the pyramid shine brightly during the day.

Khufu’s Pyramid has three known chambers; the subterranean, unfinished chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, and the King’s Chamber. The builders also constructed the sop-called Grand Gallery. In 2017, the ScanPyramids project discovered the existence of another, previously unnoticed chamber just above the grand gallery. This room has still not been explored.

Although not all pyramids in Egypt were tomb’s (Check the provincial pyramids and the last Egyptian pyramid, for example), Egyptologists believe that the Great Pyramid of Giza was intended to serve as the eternal resting place for King Khufu. It is noteworthy to mention that Khufu’s mummy has never been found.

Although certainly one of the most fascinating ancient monuments on Earth, the Great Pyramid has some serious competition.

For starters, it isn’t the largest pyramid on Earth. This honor belongs to a pyramid built in present-day Mexico and referred to as Tlachihualtepetl, which means  “made-by-hand mountain” in Nahuatl.

More commonly referred to as the Great Pyramid of Cholula, this massive “manmade mountain” stands to a height of 55 meters. Experts acknowledge it as the largest archaeological site of a pyramid anywhere in the New World, as well as the largest pyramid on the planet by volume.

Unlike the Great Pyramid which is believed to have served as a tomb, the Pyramid of Cholula was built in honor of the Mesoamerican feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl and served as a temple.

With a base of 450 by 450 meters, the Guinness Book of World Records has the Great Pyramid of Cholula as the largest pyramid and the largest monument ever constructed in the world. Compared to the Great Pyramid of Giza, which has a total volume of around 2.5 million cubic meters, the Great Pyramid of Cholula has a total volume estimated at over 4.5 million cubic meters, which means it is nearly twice the size of Giza’s Great Pyramid.

Although the Great Pyramid is thought to have been completed in either ten or twenty years, some academics believe that the Great Pyramid of Cholula took centuries to build. Researchers say that one thousand years before the conquest of the New World, consecutive construction phases built the bulk of the pyramid until it became the largest ii Mesoamerica and the world. Different cultures may have contributed to the completion of the Great Pyramid of Cholula, while only the Egyptians built the Great Pyramid of Giza.

There aren’t any plans, blueprints, or mentions of how neither of the two pyramids was built. No records from their initial construction phase exist. Nonetheless, legends say that the Great Pyramid of Cholula was built by Xelhua, one of the seven giants of Aztec Mythology.

Unlike the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was covered in finely polished limestone, the ancient inhabitants of Cholula buried the entire pyramid before the arrival of the Spanish, hoping to safeguard it from destruction. Their plan worked and the Spanish never found the pyramid, and even built a church on top of the hill.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is considered the most perfect smooth-sided pyramid built in ancient times. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, on the other hand, is a stepped structure composed of six superimposed platforms (kind of like the pyramid of Djoser). Each of these structures is believed to have been built by the ethnic group that controlled it. Of the six, only three have been studied in detail.

The base of the Great Pyramid of Cholula covers a stunning 160,000 square meters, which is three times the size of the 53,056.5 square meter base of Pharaoh Khufu’s Great Pyramid.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula suffered extensive damage during the Colonial period, while the Great Pyramid of Giza may have been damaged by earthquakes and forced entry.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula has a network of tunnels beneath it, while the Great Pyramid only has an unfinished chamber. In a sense, the Great Pyramid of Cholula for me, personally, is more similar to Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara than to the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Both Djoser’s Pyramid and that of Cholula were Stepped pyramids in their own way, and both were built across various stages.

Furthermore, I believe that the Great Pyramid of Cholula represents the initial and final form of the pyramid form in Mesoamerica, with the Pyramids of Teotihuacan being its closest evolution.

All sources and references are
embedded into the article itself.

Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

Write for us

We’re always looking for new guest authors and we welcome individual bloggers to contribute high-quality guest posts.

Get In Touch