The Luxor Casino and Hotel, Las Vegas (photograph by Bencito the Traveller)
The pyramids of the ancient world are some of the most enduring icons of our planet’s past. From the remnants of the Mayan civilization to the famous monuments of Egypt, and even as far east as Cambodia, the pyramid form has been admired by humans throughout the ages.
Pyramids still feature heavily in modern-day architecture, and while some imitate or reference those ancient wonders of the world, others repurpose the pyramid form, re-imagining the shapes of antiquity in contemporary urban settings.
In the following guide, we look at seven of the world’s most impressive — and often, controversial — modern pyramids.
THE PYRAMID ARENA
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Our guide starts with a monument ranked as the sixth largest pyramid in the world. At 321 feet in height, the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee falls into line just behind ancient Egyptian structures such as the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Red Pyramid at Dahshur.
The Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee (photograph by Jeremy Atherton, via Wikimedia)
The original design for the Pyramid Arena included a statue of Ramesses II, remembered as "Ramesses the Great," or "Ozymandias." In 2011 the statue was removed, and it now stands on the grounds of the University of Memphis.
Taking its inspirational cues from the city’s namesake — Memphis, the ancient capital of Lower Egypt — the building was designed as a sports arena. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, this vast complex was built in 1991 with the capacity to seat over 20,000 spectators.
Naturally though, wherever there’s a vast multi-million dollar project shaped like a pyramid, there will inevitably be “Illuminati” theories not far behind. In the case of the Memphis Pyramid, or the "Great American Pyramid," as it was conceived, there are rumors which tie the businessman behind the building — John Tigrett — to shadowy New World Order sects.
The radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones posits that both John Tigrett and his son Isaac were involved in the occult, and picks up on a popular theory which circulated in 1991: workmen involved in the construction of the pyramid were supposedly paid to weld a strange metal box to the inside of the apex. Depending on which story you listen to, the box was delivered by men dressed in black, and the whole procedure had to take place under the cover of night.
As strange as these stories sound, the Memphis Flyer reported that a team of county officials eventually heading up to the top of the pyramid to investigate. There, 300 feet above the River Mississippi they found a metal box welded to a beam. Inside the metal box was a wooden box, with a velvet box inside that, which contained a small crystal skull.
When questioned about the find, Isaac Tigrett — himself co-founder of the Hard Rock Café — claimed it was part of a future publicity stunt to be dubbed "The Egyptian Time Capsule." Others theorized that the crystal skull would have served to activate the energy of the pyramid, and that without its “spiritual battery,” the venue was eventually doomed to failure.
Well, the doom they spoke of proved true enough.
The Memphis pyramid in 2011 (photograph by sawdust_media/Flickr user)
A problem with drainage pumps on the pyramid’s opening night caused severe flooding of the arena, and staff had to sandbag the stage and its power cables to prevent electrocuting patrons. It also transpired that the pyramid, which had been promoted as an NBA venue, fell short of NBA standards — and the cost of modifying the arena was so high that it proved cheaper to build the 1994 FedExForum instead.
Other projects have been attempted — and abandoned — in the years since, and the Pyramid Arena has not seen regular use as a sports stadium since 2004. While plans are underway to convert it into a Bass Pro Shop hunting and fishing megastore, the unfortunate history of the venue has earned the arena its local nickname — the “Tomb of Doom.”
THE PALACE OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
Continuing the theme of Illuminati plots, our next pyramid takes us all the way to Kazakhstan, and the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, the architectural jewel in the crown of the nation’s capital.
Astana's Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (photograph by Darmon Richter)
Following their break from the Soviet Union in 1991, while other former USSR states were suffering widespread economic depression, Kazakhstan was fortunate enough to strike oil instead. The country abandoned its former capital of Almaty — a city located in the southeast, close to the border with China — and instead built the brand new capital at Astana.
Spending billions of petrodollars on the project over the next decade, President Nazarbayev hired some of the most renowned architects in the world, including Britain’s Sir Norman Foster, who was responsible for the design of the pyramid at the city’s heart.
The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was built between 2004 and 2006, and forms a perfect triangle, measuring 62 meters in height and 62 meters across the base. With local temperatures ranging from plus to minus 40 degrees Celsius between summer and winter, engineers were required to build the pyramid over a steel and concrete skeleton able to endure extreme contraction and expansion.
Inside the top floor conference room of the pyramid (photograph by ingalatvia/Flickr user)
The building contains a 1,500-seat opera house in its lowest levels, in addition to education facilities and a circular table in the apex surrounded by windows containing the images of flying doves where the Kazakh congress meets. Its design is claimed to recognize “all the world’s religious faiths.”
However, according to conspiracy theorists (those at xlivescom, for example) the pyramid design is a “representation of the philosophy of the initiates.” It is claimed that the building embodies the esoteric principles of Pythagoras and other teachers of the ancient mystery schools, including strong themes of sun worship. In many of these theories, links are drawn between sun worship and diabolism, based on the biblical definition of Lucifer as, “the Bringer of Light, the Morning Star.” The pyramid's circular congress hall is cited as a perfect example of a “sun table.”
Taken in isolation, perhaps such theories would be easy to dismiss... but these ideas begin to build momentum when one considers the supposed Illuminati symbolism of Astana in more depth.
Astana city centre (photograph by Darmon Richter)
The city really is a dream destination for conspiracy theorists, its futuristic architecture laden with rich symbolism of a seemingly esoteric nature. The city center, for example, has been said to mirror the layout of a Masonic temple: a wide open area decorated in checkered tiles, the presidential palace in the eastern position (the point reserved for the Grand Master’s chair in a Masonic temple), which is flanked by two vast golden pillars.
Of course, it could all be a coincidence, or it could be a knowing nod on behalf of the architects. Many will tell you, however, that the city of Astana is set to become one of the great power centers in the coming New World Order.
Watch this space!
ALEXANDER GOLOD'S PYRAMID
The previous two entries in this guide highlight the oft-reported significance of pyramid symbology in the esoteric traditions. The connection itself is more than mere aesthetics however, and many have gone on to hypothesize that a unique structural power — or energy — can be found within the pyramidal form.
The Moscow Pyramid (photograph by renidens)
The internet abounds with theories that the pyramids of ancient Egypt (as well as visually similar structures in Mexico and Cambodia, for that matter) were built according to an extraterrestrial design. There are other theories suggesting that the pharaohs of Egypt had access to electricity, and that the pyramids were, in effect, giant power stations. Numerous ideas like this were floated during the 20th century, and led to extensive studies of "pyramid energy." The French occultist Antoine Bovis developed one such theory in the 1930s. Popular stories state that he visited Egypt’s Great Pyramid, and noted that the carcasses of animals that had died inside the pyramid showed no signs of decay. Bovis himself later refuted the myth, saying he had never been to Egypt, although he had observed compelling results in experiments using homemade cardboard pyramids.
In 1949, inspired by the writings of Bovis, the Czech entrepreneur Karel Drbal began marketing his "Pharaoh’s Shaving Device." This consisted of a model pyramid containing razors; and by aligning the blades carefully along the magnetic fields within, he offered a promise that they would forever remain sharp. Drbal’s work would later be showcased by authors Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain.
Interior view of Alexander Golod's Pyramid (via Atlas Obscura)
As one might imagine, the "Pyramid Power" theory has more than its fair share of critics. Nevertheless, for a time it became a popular avenue of research amongst those looking for renewable sources of energy. Ukrainian defense contractor Alexander Golod decided to put these theories to the test on a grand scale, creating a 150-foot fiberglass pyramid roughly one hour outside of Moscow.
An official website reports a number of striking results achieved through studies using Alexander Golod’s design of "Golden Section Pyramids."
According to the site: exposure in the pyramid boosted the immune system of organisms, it increased the properties of medicines tested (while decreasing associated side effects), radioactive sources exposed to the pyramid energy became less dangerous, while the various bacteria and viruses exposed lost much of their pathogenic strength. Plant seeds which were placed in the pyramid were shown to enjoy a 30-100% increase in yield, while Russia’s military radars detected a prominent "energy column" above the structure — which is “thought to have repaired the Ozone layer in Russia.” A related study exposed crystalline structures to the pyramid energy, before placing them around jails. The reported result was a drastic decrease in violent and criminal behavior inside the institutions.
Alexander Golod's Golden Section Pyramid (photograph by Kolya Pynti)
While the findings at Alexander Golod's Pyramids have been backed by the Russian Academy of Sciences, they have yet to find strong support from the international scientific community, on account of limited or unsatisfactory evidence. So it may be a while yet before hospitals and prisons in the West start taking the form of giant pyramids.
THE LOUVRE PYRAMID
A more familiar pyramid can be seen in the glass structure that fronts the Louvre in Paris. This iconic structure is formed from one large glass and metal pyramid, surrounded by three smaller pyramids that between them form the focal point of the "Cour Napoléon."
Courtyard of the Louvre Museum, with the Pyramid (photograph by Alvesgaspar, via Wikimedia)
Completed in 1989, the largest of these structures, commonly referred to as the Louvre Pyramid (or "Pyramide du Louvre"), now serves as the main entrance to the museum and is one of the city’s more notable landmarks.
The structure’s Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei, claimed that the design was inspired by a trellis he had seen at the adjacent Jardin des Tuilleries, and that the Louvre Pyramid was in no way related to the monuments of ancient Egypt. On close inspection though, the Louvre Pyramid is an excellent approximation of the contours of the Great Pyramid of Giza — accurate to within a degree.
The Louvre Pyramid raised controversy in the 1980s, following the publication of an official brochure. Twice in the pages of the brochure, it was claimed that the structure was formed from 666 individual panes of glass. That figure was subsequently quoted by numerous newspapers and became a widespread misconception.
Inside the Louvre Pyramid (photograph by Vinceesq, via Wikimedia)
As we’ve already seen, the pyramid form has often been linked to the occult, so just imagine the excitement amongst conspiracy theorists upon learning that the panes of glass in the Louvre Pyramid totaled 666: the biblical "Number of the Beast."
The pyramid was commissioned in 1984 by then President of France François Mitterrand. The leader was said to have been a Masonic sympathizer at the very least, which invited broad speculation as to the motives behind his Parisienne pyramid. After all, the city has a long history of involvement with the freemasons and many still argue that the Craft played a key role in the French Revolution.
In a 1998 book titled, François Mitterrand, Grand Architecte de l'Univers (François Mitterrand, Great Architect of the Universe), Dominique Stezepfandt posited that "the pyramid is dedicated to a power described as the Beast in the Book of Revelation. [...] The entire structure is based on the number 6."
The Louvre and its Pyramid by Night (photograph by Benh Lieu Song, via Wikimedia)
Revelations aside, the notion that the Louvre Pyramid features 666 panes is, in fact, false. An official statement by the Louvre Museum numbers them at 673, and this same figure can be reached using simple mathematics.
The "Number of the Beast" theory did briefly resurface in 2003, when Dan Brown featured the Louvre Pyramid in his best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. His protagonist Robert Langdon comments that the pyramid “at President Mitterrand's explicit demand, had been constructed of exactly 666 panes of glass.” Whether Dan Brown made an artistic choice to humor the rumor over reality — or, perhaps simply failed to do his homework — is anybody’s guess.
THE RYUGYONG HOTEL
Pyongyang, North Korea
Dubbed by international media as the "Phantom Pyramid," the "Hotel of Doom,” and, even, the “Worst Building in the History of Mankind,” Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel has become infamous for its long years of dereliction, and though not strictly a pyramid, this pyramid-shaped structure has nevertheless earned its way onto our list.
photograph by eager/Flickr user
The name "Ryugyong" translates to English as "Capital of Willows," an old Korean name used to denote the city of Pyongyang itself. Once completed, the lavish complex was set to contain a wealth of accommodation suites, shops, and offices, topped by five consecutive floors of revolving restaurants.
It was designed to be the tallest hotel anywhere in the world, and with a total of 105 floors across a height of 330 meters, if the project had been completed in time for its 1989-projected opening it would have succeeded. There wouldn’t be another hotel to reach that height until 2009, in fact, with the completion of Dubai’s Rose Tower.
The Ryugyong under construction in 2007 (photograph by pricey/Flickr user)
Construction of the Ryugyong Hotel began in 1987, right in the heart of North Korea’s capital. The Hermit Nation is famous for its competitive architectural statements — at the time, Pyongyang was already home to the world’s tallest free-standing stone tower (the Juche Tower) as well as the world’s tallest triumphal arch. However, with the Ryugyong they hit a stumbling block.
Construction halted in 1992, likely impacted by the fall of the Soviet Union the previous year; North Korea had strong economic ties with the USSR, and the latter’s collapse had financial repercussions for many of its allies.
For the next 16 years, the Ryugyong would stand watch over the city as a bare concrete skeleton. The failed project became something of a national embarrassment; its likeness was scrapped from postage stamps and airbrushed out of photographs, as people did their best not to notice the hulking, unfinished giant.
The Ryugyong Hotel up close (photograph by Simon Cockerell)
It was only in 2008 that the project was reopened; and there is some subtle poetry in the fact that it was an Egyptian telecommunications company — the Orascom Group — who bought the lease on this vast pyramid. Now, the Ryugyong’s exterior is finally finished in polished glass, and a grand opening for the complex is to be expected some time in the next few years.
While access to the interior of the Ryugyong is — of course — highly restricted, there are a handful of Westerners who’ve been allowed a glimpse inside the unfinished hotel. The following photographs come courtesy of Simon Cockerell at the Koryo Tours group, themselves regular visitors to the DPRK. The images show off the colossal scale of the project, as well as the spectacular views of Pyongyang offered by the Ryugyong’s 100th floor penthouse suites.
Inside one wing of the Ryugyong Hotel (photograph by Simon Cockerell)
Looking out the windows of the Ryugyong (photograph by Simon Cockerell)
The city of Pyongyang, seen from the Ryugyong Hotel (photograph by Simon Cockerell)
NIMA SAND MUSEUM
While we're on the subject of Far East pyramids, Japan's Nima Sand Museum is housed inside a series of unique glass and steel structures — adding not one, but a further six modern pyramids to our list.
The Nima Pyramids (photograph by montkd)
Measuring 17 meters across the base and 21 meters high, the main Nima pyramid is a striking vision on the horizon of what was once a sleepy fishing village. The architect responsible for the museum, Nima-born Shin Takamatsu, explained the height of the large pyramid, claiming he wanted it to be visible from his mother’s grave in the village.
The museum was opened in March 1991, celebrating the bizarre properties of the sand found along nearby Kotogahama Beach. It contains rich traces of finely ground quartz, which are said to produce a song-like sound when walked upon.
This is not an unknown phenomenon — similar effects having been noted elsewhere in the world, such as the dunes of the Badain Jaran Desert in China, a beach in Doha, Qatar, and the Singing Sand Dunes of Altyn Emel National Park in Kazakhstan.
photograph by sleepytako/Flickr user
In the Japanese beach town of Nima, however, the effect is put to work in a series of art installations contained within the museum. Aptly housed inside a series of six glass pyramids, the Nima Sand Museum features a range of glass handicrafts such as sundials, clocks, and hourglasses — the latter more commonly known here as "sandglasses."
There are mineral and fossil specimens also on display, as well as a number of interactive exhibitions and workshops. Visitors are invited to learn the secrets of producing sand art, or have a go at making their own glass in a studio building situated next door to the museum.
Perhaps the most famous of all the exhibits at the Nima Sand Museum, though, is the sandglass located inside the tip of the tallest pyramid. The glass measures 5.2 meters from end to end and one meter in diameter, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest sandglass. The sand contained inside weighs roughly a ton.
The sandglass in the apex of the largest pyramid (photograph by sleepytako/Flickr user)
The glass has been crafted to measure the passing of one year precisely, and the museum holds an annual celebration centred around the turning of the sandglass. Each New Year’s Eve, a team of 108 men and women rotate the glass, chosen according to their signs in the Chinese zodiac. The count starts afresh at midnight, accompanied by the release of 1,000 fireworks over the water.
THE LUXOR HOTEL
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
The last pyramid on our list takes us back to the United States, and the famous Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. This colossal building is modeled according to the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and at 365 feet in height, it’s now the third tallest pyramidal structure in the world (behind the pyramids of Giza and Khafre in Egypt).
The Luxor seen from the Airport (photograph by Jenny Lee Silver, via WikiMedia)
The Luxor Hotel was opened to the public in 1993, at the end of an 18-month, $375 million construction project. Divided into 30 stories, the building is operated by MGM Resorts and features 4,400 rooms, four swimming pools, a wedding chapel, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and a 120,000-square-foot casino.
In addition to the pyramid building itself, the Luxor Hotel and Casino features a replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza — measuring 100 feet tall — as well as a 140-foot Egyptian-style obelisk. Meanwhile, the tip of the pyramid houses what is believed to be the strongest beam of light anywhere in the world: the Luxor Sky Beam.
Aerial view of the Luxor Hotel (via Wikimedia)
The Sky Beam has been in operation since October 1993, using a series of 39 xenon lamps arranged with mirrors to create one narrow, intense beam pointing up at the sky. On a clear night, the beam is visible from as far away as Los Angeles — a distance of 275 miles. Over the years, the light has established a whole new ecosystem, attracting countless numbers of owls, bats, moths, and flying saucers, it would seem.
Since the Luxor was opened, a steady stream of UFO sightings have been reported in the sky above the pyramid. In these videos, for example, a London-based UFO enthusiast has captured what appear to be a large number of flying objects above the pyramid, dodging in and out of the beam of light. Similar phenomena have been reported since the Luxor opened.
While many have explained the sightings as birds or bats feeding on the thousands of moths drawn in by the Sky Beam, Jamie Marfleet of UFO Sightings Daily disagrees.
The Luxor's Sphinx and Sky Beam (photograph by Liam Richardson)
"They are round and move swiftly in and out of the beacon,” he wrote on his site, going on to argue that the "orbs are not bats or birds because they do not have wings and they never flap."
By way of alternate explanation, he added, “the top of the Egyptian pyramids are said to be able to channel energy into a beam and shoot it somewhere distant [...] perhaps the orbs are expecting the same thing from this one."
OTHER MODERN PYRAMIDS
While this guide tackles some of the most iconic — and controversial — modern pyramids around the world, there are plenty more out there. So by way of an epilogue, take a look at these other examples of modern pyramidal architecture:
Walter Pyramid, California, United States (photograph by Summum, via WikiMedia)
Kazan Pyramid, Russia (photograph by Gradmir, via WikiMedia)
The Muttart Conservatories in Edmonton, Canada (photograph by WinterforceMedia, via WikiMedia)
The Sunway Pyramid Shopping Centre, Malaysia (photograph by Cmglee, via WikiMedia)