At the end of the I century BC, the heirs of Gaio Cestio Epulone had an impressive funerary monument built for him in 330 days (as remembered in the inscriptions on the West and East façades). It was shaped as a pyramid, following an exotic taste become widespread in Rome after the conquer of Egypt (31 BC). The dead man can probably be identified with the praetor of 44BC. The Pyramid, located along Via Ostiense, placed within a still visible fence of turf blocs, is erected on a concrete square basement covered in travertine blocs, whose side measures mt. 29.50; the Pyramid’s height, as well in concrete, is mt. 36.40, and covered with white marble slabs. On the West side are two basements for the bronze statutes of the dead man: as specified in the inscriptions, the statues were financed with the proceeds of the sale of tapestries which could not be placed inside the cell; in fact, a sumptuary law, promulgated in 18 BC by Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus, prohibited luxury items in the tombs. The inner cell, accessible through a corridor build on the West side in the Modern Age, measures mt. 4 x 5.80, and probably contained the dead man’s urn, now lost. The walls of the cell, barrel-vaulted, have a brickwork face (one of the first examples of this kind of masonry technique in Rome) covered in plaster. The frescos on the plaster walls consist of monochrome squares on white background parted by chandeliers; at the centre are four feminine figures, standing or sitting, alternated with vases of various kinds (the so-called “third Pompeian style”).

On the vault are 4 winged Victories and at the centre maybe the portrait of the dead man; on the background wall there is the niche which probably housed the urn. The cell was plundered in the Middle Ages through the opening of a tunnel, visible in one of the corners of the Pyramid. In the III century AD the Pyramid was incorporated in the Aurelian Walls, and in the Middle Ages was known as Meta Remi, in association with a similar monument in the rione Borgo, known as Meta Romuli. In the first years of 1600 Antonio Bosio visited the Pyramid, entering in his turn through the tunnel excavated in the Middle Ages. The first excavations to bring to light the whole building, wanted by pope Alessandro VII, date back to 1663; nowadays entry to the funeral cell dates back to those days. During the years, the Pyramid was visited by numerous visitors on various occasions, as attested by the great number of inscriptions and signatures visible on the frescos of the walls and of the vaults.
The current arrangement with the front garden dates back to the 1950s.
The restoration of the sepulchral cell was carried out by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, in 2001; every year, specialized restorers provide the programmed maintenance of the frescos. The restoration of the façades is in progress.



(M. G. Filetici; A. Rotondi)