The largest pyramid in the world: Cholula Mexico

While I was in Puebla, Mexico, I decided to take a day trip to San Pedro Cholula, a village about a 15 minute cab ride away from Puebla. Puebla is the 4th largest city in Mexico with millions of inhabitants, while Cholula is a small town with an ancient history.

I wanted to visit Cholula for it’s archeological site, a pyramid. The largest pyramid in the world, in fact. And the pyramid is certainly there, but the thing is – most of it is covered by dirt and looks like a hill.

Believe it or not, this is the largest pyramid in the world.

According to Wikipedia:

The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BCE through the 9th century CE, and was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl. It has a base of 450 by 450 metres (1,480 by 1,480 ft) and a height of 66 m (217 ft). According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is in fact the largest pyramid as well as the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world, with a total volume estimated at over 4.45 million cubic meters, even larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt which is about 2.5 million cubic meters.

Centuries later, a Catholic church was built at the very top of the “hill” (the top of the pyramid). So, you see the pyramid structure at the bottom of the hill (see pic above), but then, you look waaaayyyy up to the top of the hill and you see a bright yellow church.

A view of the church from the bottom of the pyramid

 Again, from Wikipedia:

This is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies), also known as the Santuario de la Virgen de los Remedios (Sanctuary of the Virgin of Remedies), which was built by the Spanish in colonial times (1594) on top of the prehispanic temple. The church is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination, and the site is also used for the celebration of indigenous rites.

You can climb to the top of the hill, or pyramid, by way of a slashed-rock walkway of near vertical incline. Many pilgrims made their way up the hill on the day I visited.

Two women make the pilgrimage up the steep "pyramid hill" - the town is laid out below

 Eventually, you come upon a vertical staircase, the last of your journey before you see the church:

Vertical staircase to heaven - just before you reach the church at the top of the pyramid

The church doesn’t look 400+ years old…

The bright and cheerful yellow paint on this church helps disguise it's age. It was built in 1594.

I wish I could show you what the inside of the church looks like, but it is not permitted. No photographs can be taken inside the church. But the thing that made an impression on me inside this church was the incredible smell. There were dozens upon dozens of live flower arrangements spread everywhere in the church, which is small inside. The entire alter was covered with them and it was lovely. Mexican pilgrims would enter the church, sit in the pews for a few minutes, make a small donation and leave.  I watched in fascination as wave after wave of people came and went. There were no services, and everyone came in and prayed silently.

When I wandered back out of the church, I couldn’t help but take pictures of the town of Cholula laid out in front of me, even though it was a foggy day.

The town of Cholula draped in fog

At the center of the town, is another fortress like structure, which is actually a convent.  It was built in 1549. Of course I wandered down into the center of town to take more photographs of this impressive structure.

Side view of the conventCourtyard of the convent


Courtyard of the convent

And while I am not a Catholic, I wound up taking one of the most memorable photos of my trip in this courtyard. A nun had come out of the convent, and had set up an umbrella with baskets of things to sell because there was a fair going on in Cholula on the day I visited (which is different story for another time.)
Here is my photo:

Nun in Cholula

 After having visited the pyramid and the church at the top of the pyramid, I got a sense of Cholula’s ancient past. But it seemed just that – the past. But when I came down into the town center to this convent and saw this nun, suddenly the past and the present had merged together and became one.
This woman’s life may not be all that different from her counterparts that lived in Cholula hundreds of years ago. How amazing it is, to find yourself in a place, alone with the past and the present (she and I were the only people in the convent’s courtyard when I took this photo) and to simply be there to observe it.
There are so many things about Mexico that I experienced that are nearly indescribable. This moment was one of those.
And moments like these are treasures, epiphanies and life lessons about the humanity in us all.

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