The Great Pyramid of Cholula

The Great Pyramid of Cholula is a structure found in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. It is also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl meaning “man-made mountain”). It is the enormous pyramid (temple) archaeological site in the New World and the largest pyramid by volume known to exist in the world today.

The adobe brick pyramid stands 25 meters (82 ft) above the surrounding plain, significantly shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza at 146.6 meters (481 ft). Still, it is much broader, in its final form spanning 300 by 315 meters (984 by 1,033 ft), compared to 230.3 by 230.3 meters for the Great Pyramid (756 by 756 ft).

The pyramid is widely considered a temple devoted to the deity Quetzalcoatl.

The building’s architectural style was closely related to Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico, while Gulf Coast influence, particularly from El Tajn, is also apparent.

Most people immediately identify monolithic pyramids with Egyptology, notably the three great pyramids of Giza. These vast and ancient stone monuments represent the vanished Egyptian civilization, yet much larger ancient pyramids are to be discovered.

The Cholula archaeological zone is located in the city of Cholula, 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) west of Puebla. The pyramid is located in the municipality of San Andrés Cholula, Puebla, and symbolizes the beginning of this municipality in the city center.

The city is separated into San Andrés and San Pedro municipalities. The Toltec-Chichimeca invasion of the city in the twelfth century is the foundation of this split, and these factors drove the once mighty Olmeca-Xicalanca to the city’s south. These people maintained the pyramid as their principal religious center. Still, the increasingly powerful Toltec-Chichimecas established a new temple to Quetzalcoatl on the site of the current San Gabriel monastery. Cholula was originally known as Tlachihualtepetl, which means “artificial hill,” by the Toltec-Chichimec people who occupied the area about the 12th century A.D.

The origin of the term Cholula is the ancient Nahuatl word cholollan, which means “place of shelter.”

The Great Pyramid was a major religious and mythological center in the prehispanic periods. Throughout the millennium preceding the Spanish Conquest, several construction phases steadily increased the pyramid’s volume until it became the biggest in Mexico by volume.

Outlines of many pyramids superimposed against one another to demonstrate the relative height

Comparison of the approximate profiles of the Great Pyramid of Cholula with several prominent pyramidal and near-pyramidal structures.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Pirámide Tepanapa or, in the Nahuatl language, Tlachihualtepetl, which means “made mountain.” It was created for the first time in approximately 200 B.C. and enlarged or rebuilt several times during the following centuries by various civilizations, notably the Olmecs and the Toltecs. According to Aztec mythology, it was constructed by Xelhua, a giant whose structure angered the gods so much that they rained fire onto it.

The temple-pyramid complex was devoted to the god Quetzalcoatl and was constructed in four phases from the third century BCE to the ninth century C.E. It has a 300-by-315-meter (984-by-1,033-foot) foundation and a height of 25 meters (82 ft).

Fifty-five meters (180 feet) above the surrounding plain, the pyramid’s ultimate dimensions were 450 by 450 meters (1,480 by 1,480 ft). In contrast to the Egyptian pyramids, believed to have functioned as graves for the pharaohs and queens of Egypt, the pyramids constructed in present-day Mexico were temples dedicated to the many deities revered by the Aztecs, Zapotecs, Teotihuacani, Olmecs, and Maya, among others.

Scholars think the Cholula’s pyramid was constructed as a temple dedicated to worshiping Quetzalcoatl, one of the most significant Mesoamerican deities in history.

Building such a gigantic pyramid was not a simple process. The volume of the Great Pyramid of Cholula is believed to exceed 4.45 million cubic meters. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, its enormous scale is the world’s giant pyramid and largest man-made monument.

Tlachihualtepetl is greater than the Great Pyramid of Giza, which has an estimated total volume of around 2.5 million cubic meters, with a volume of 4.45 million cubic meters. Even though the Pyramid of Cholula is far greater in terms of volume, the Great Pyramid of Giza is taller, measuring around 138.8 meters in height (455 ft).

According to the findings of INAH archaeologist Mara del Carmen Solanes Carraro, around a thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in Mexico, the pyramid underwent a series of construction phases that culminated in its becoming the biggest structure ever erected.

Although the complete pyramid complex has not been excavated — and probably never will be to protect the colonial church placed on the pyramid’s summit — scholars think the pyramid was constructed in four separate phases.

No documented reports of the pyramid’s construction survive, and it is assumed that the pyramid’s earliest stages were constructed about the third century BCE. Underneath the pyramid, archaeological digs have uncovered a massive underground world comprised of at least eight kilometers of tunnels that link to various regions underneath the enormous monument.

The ultimate form of the pyramid consists of six stacked buildings (similar to Djoser’s Step Pyramid, but considerably smaller). It is believed that each structure (step) was constructed by the dominant ethnic group in the city. Only three of the six stacked buildings have been investigated by archaeologists.

The Postclassic Aztecs thought that Xelhua, a giant, constructed the Pyramid of Cholula due to its immense size.

As the pyramid was the greatest of its type, so too was Cholula, the largest of its kind. It is estimated that Cholula was home to more than 100,000 people at its peak, making it the second-most populous city in Mexico.

Teotihuacan, not far from Cholula, is thought to have been the ancient Mesoamerican metropolis with the biggest population. Cholula and Teotihuacan appeared to have fallen together.

According to historical sources, the ancient city of Cholula was referred to in the Nahuatl language as Acholollan, which translates to “site of escape” aeons ago by the local inhabitants.

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