Cholula is a small town located just outside of Puebla, Mexico and home to one of Mexico’s best kept secrets. In 1594, the Spanish built the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Remedies on the top of a hill, unaware of the secret hidden underneath. The Great Pyramid of Cholula is the largest pyramid in the world by volume. We love exploring the ruins of ancient civilizations, and this was certainly one of the best we’ve seen.
From a distance, it looks like a mountain. To the casual observer, it would be hard to assume there was a pyramid built underneath. It had been abandoned for hundreds of years and overgrown by the time the Spanish arrived. The Great Pyramid of Cholula (known as Tlachihualtepetl) was an important religious site that had been built up in stages over thousands of years. Construction of the pyramid dates back as far as the 3rd Century BCE.
Cholula was named as a Puebla Magico, recognizing towns in Mexico with cultural importance. It is located about 6km outside of Puebla, though the boundary between modern day Puebla and Cholula has been blurred by slow expansion of the two municipalities. They are both part of the same urban zone.
On top of the pyramid today is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Remedies, a church that was built by the Spanish in 1594. It was the perfect place to build a church, as the local legends spoke of its importance. The true history of this location remained hidden for many years.
Largest Pyramid in the World
The town of Cholula was quite lovely, but the main reason we were visiting was to explore the pyramid and surrounding city complex.
Tlachihualtepetl is dedicated to Quetzalcoatl and is the largest pyramid in the world when measured by volume. The pyramid at Cholula rises 66 meters (217 feet) above the surrounding plains. It is twice the volume and four times the base of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The base of the pyramid at Cholula measures at 450 by 450 meters.
Construction of the ancient city took place over several stages between the 3rd Century BCE until around the 9th Century ACE. According to a Toltec-Chichimec story that was discovered elsewhere in Mexico, it was abandoned sometime around the 12th Century.
The first exploration of the Pyramid complex began in 1881, and was excavated twice, first between the 1930-50s and again between 1966-70. The parts that have been excavated and exposed reveal quite the impressive picture of what life must have looked like, including the courtyard of the alters. Towards the end of the ruins, there is one structure (Building F) that you can climb up.
The history of Mexico is shared by many great civilizations before the arrival of the Spanish. Cholula is a great example where these two histories intersect. The colonial city and Great Pyramid at Cholula was one of the top highlights from our trip through Central Mexico. It is "must see" if you're visiting Puebla. You will not be disappointed.