If you love ancient roman history then you must visit Mérida. Spain has many Roman excavations, but rarely as complete as the monuments that can be seen in Mérida.
The first time we visited this city in the Extremadura, we stayed with our son. With a journey of 3 hours in the car and an equally long journey back, there was not much time left to visit the city in peace and quiet.
We definitely wanted to come back to see everything at our leisure. That only happened 12 years later, but then we also took the time for it.
Table of contents
- 1 Ancient Roman History
- 2 Mérida, a wonderful stop between Madrid and Seville
- 3 Final words about Mérida and its ancient roman history
Ancient Roman History
The dominion of the Roman Empire over much of Europe has had a tremendous impact on Western culture. Grosso modo you can say that the Roman Empire lasted from the 7th BC to the 5th century AD.
Famous are the Punic Wars, waged by the Romans in the 3rd and 2nd century BC against Carthage, which was located in Tunisia, not far from today’s Tunis. New-Carthage is the current Spanish Cartagena, which I will write about later.
During my Art History studies, my minor at the Art Academy, I focused on the Celts who were one of the tribes who attacked the Romans. So I don’t know much about Roman history!
Although we often visit excavations and then study the information boards extensively. It is time for me to study Roman history structurally, don’t you think? 🙂
Mérida, a wonderful stop between Madrid and Seville
Mérida has been on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 1993. Excavations are still being carried out. More or less forgotten parts of the historic city are made accessible to visitors.
Mérida has a tourist app with various GPS walks and a lot of information. In both Spanish and English, and even in sign language. For me, it is the first and only app so far that is made in a horizontal format! In July and August there is a large Classical festival with (outdoor) performances throughout the city with the heritage sites as stages.
Most heritage sites in Mérida have an entrance fee, but if you know in advance that you are going to visit several of them, then I recommend buying a day ticket that offers access to almost all monuments. A discount applies to seniors (65+), as in most places in Spain. The condition is that you can identify yourself.
I joked with a cashier at a museum that I was very flattered that she didn’t believe I’m 65+, but even laughing together didn’t make her budge! Ever since I make sure I have either my passport or my driver’s license with me. 🙂
El Puente Romano
A Roman bridge over the Guadiana river. This bridge has 60 arches and spans a distance of 792 meters, making it the largest preserved Roman bridge.
Since a new bridge has been put into use a bit further on, El Puente Romano has been a pedestrian domain. You can walk to an island that is a connection point between the two banks. From there you have a nice view of the city with the Alcazaba Árabe in the foreground.
An Alcazaba is an Arab citadel, a fortress or defensive wall that forms the entrance to a city. Often star-shaped, but in Mérida a square, built on remains from Roman times.
Interesting to visit, but it is also clear that the excavation is still in full swing. There are statues and information boards here and there, but also many undetermined artifacts, of which it is not entirely clear what these represent.
The Los Milagros and San Làzaro Acueductos are largely intact. The Los Milagros aqueduct is an impressive 25 meters high and 830 meters long.
Aqueducts are bridges over which water was passed for irrigation or drinking water for the cities.
The Roman Theater
Together with the Theater in Cartagena, this theater is one of my favorites. I am not alone in my opinion, as the theater in Mérida is considered one of the finest in Europe.
It was commissioned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and was probably put into service around 15 BC. The decor of this theater, the scaena, with its colorful marble columns is largely intact.
It used to accommodate up to 6.000 visitors. After a major renovation, the theater is used again for its original purpose: the performing arts. To our regret we were too late to buy tickets for an opera. When you want to see a performance, inform yourself in advance.
The Amphitheater of Mérida
This gladiatorial arena was initiated in 8 BC. The amphitheater had three rings of which only the lower one has been preserved and it could seat 16.000 spectators. It is right next to the Theater, so a visit is usually combined.
The Temple of Diana
This temple was located in the city’s central square, the Forum, and was originally a temple dedicated to the imperial cult in which the deceased Roman emperors were worshiped as gods.
During the Renaissance the temple was integrated into a palace. As a result, much of it has been well-preserved.
The Circus Maximus
This terrain is named after the famous Circus Maximus in Rome and was mainly used for chariot racing. The circus is 400m x 100m and could seat an amazing number of 30.000 spectators.
It’s interesting to visit from a historical point of view, especially in terms of dimensions. But if you only have one day, I would put it at the bottom of the list.
Other worthwhile places
- The Mérida National Roman Art Museum. A beautiful museum in the vicinity of the Theater. Here several fragile mosaic floors and statues are displayed to protect them from the elements;
- The Mithraeum, a temple dedicated to the god Mithras;
- The Roman bridge over the lbarregas river;
- The remains of the Forum, with a triumphal arch in honor of Emperor Trajan;
- Several Roman houses with beautifully preserved mosaic floors.
Final words about Mérida and its ancient roman history
The enactments of historical events are usually very interesting to watch. They take place in Mérida regularly.
On the other hand the costumed “Roman” canvases at the restaurants did not impress me. It seemed too much like a bad dressed up carnival to me. If you want to avoid them, it is best to find a restaurant far away from the Theater.
The city is easily accessible by the RENFE (train) and the AVE (high-speed line). We traveled by car and had a hotel just outside the city, to avoid problems with parking.
There are public parking garages near the river, where there is still enough space early in the morning. From there most is within walking distance. Although I must add that we walk a lot, so it might be too far if you are not that mobile.
What part of Roman history do you love most? Tell us in the comment box below.
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