Merida, Spain

Category: Locations

In 25 BC, Publio Carisio, working under orders from Caesar Octavio Augusto, created the city of Mérida, then known as Emérita Augusta, as a retirement colony for veterans of the successful Cántabras wars (Spanish Campaign). The location for this walled city was chosen due to its position in the heart of the Roman dominated Lusitania region, at the convergence of two major shipping routes on the Guadiana and Alberregas rivers.

From the time of its inception to the fall of Rome, Mérida was an important political, economic, military and cultural center for the entire western region of the Roman Empire. Mérida maintained its importance through the Visigoth domination of the area, although had less importance for the Moors when the city came under Arab occupation. In 1230 AD, Christian soldiers, under Alfonso IX, conquered the city, and converted it to the headquarters for the Priory of St. Mark of León.

During the age of the Reyes Católicos (The Catholic Kings) the city recovered its political importance, when the Maestre de Santiago, Don Alfonso de Cárdenas, threw his support behind Queen Isabel La Católica in her successful fight against Juana La Beltraneja for the throne of Spain.

The violent French invasion of this region at the end of the 18th century, would lead to a loss of part of Mérida’s artistic and historical heritage.

Finally, Mérida’s strategic location as major railway connection during the first half of the 20th century led to its resurgence in political and cultural importance. In 1983, Mérida was named the capital of the Autonomous Community of Extremadura. Each year, more and more of Mérida’s rich archaeological history is uncovered, and in December of 1993 was named by the United Nations (UNESCO) a World Heritage Site.

According to the United Nations, Mérida “is an excellent example of a provincial Roman capital during the Empire and in the years following.” (UNESCO website, Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida).

“Our tour began early in Mérida. We visited the old Roman city Emerita Augusta along with the theater, amphitheater (which could accommodate 15,000 people) and Diana’s temple. Late morning we were guided through the National Museum Of Roman Art. It displayed a collection of artifacts found in and around Mérida, as well as excavations featuring a Roman street, villas and tombs.” (J. Hiers, Woodstock Union High School, Spain tour lead teacher 02/02)

IMPORTANT SIGHTS TO SEE:

El Teatro Romano (The Roman Theater).

merida
The Theater is, without a doubt, the most visited tourist site in the city. It could seat over 6,000 spectators and was constructed under the direction of Counselor Marco Agripa, the son-in-law of Caesar Octavio Augusto, in approximately 15bc.

The three levels of seating in its semi-circle design were set aside for spectators depending on their social class. The half moon in front of the stage was designed for the orchestra and choir. The frons scaenae , or stage area, allowed for scenes to take place on 3 separate levels, with over 8 different locations for entrance/exit of characters on stage.

The theater is open to the public from 9:00am -1:45pm and 5:00pm – 7:15pm during the summer, and from 9:00am -1:45pm and 4:00pm – 6:15pm during the winter.

El Museo Nacional De Arte Romano (The National Museum of Roman Art).

The National Museum of Roman Art is one of the finest museums of its kind in the world, not only for its collection, but also due to the actual building itself. The Museum is built over what was a residential area in the Roman City of Emérita Augusta. The lower section of the museum is itself an ongoing archaeological dig-site of Roman streets, and tombs. The Museum is designed as one large hall divided into 10 sections over 3 floors that houses more than 37,000 pieces taken from different areas throughout the city. Works include sculptures, religious artifacts, utensils, ceramics, glassworks and mosaics.

El Anfitreo (The Amphitheater).

Almost attached to the Roman Theater is the Roman site dedicated to use by Gladiators and wild animals: the Roman Amphitheater.

It was opened in 8 AD, and it’s elliptical shape could seat over 14,000 spectators. The cross-shaped center of the arena, is where the exhibitions/shows would take place. On the north and south ends of the arena, under the stadium-like seating, was housed the Gladiators preparation area and the animal storage facilities. Like the Theater, the seating in the Amphitheater was divided into three sections, and spectators were seated depending on their social status. The cavea summa (the level of seating farthest from the arena) has been almost completely lost.

Puente Sobre El Rio Guadiana (The bridge over the River Guadiana)

This bridge is 792 meters long, and is composed of 60 arches. Originally built in three sections, the first section is the best preserved example of the original bridge. It was built simultaneously with the city around 25bc, although the passage of time has required that it be restored several times. The most extensive reconstruction was completed in the 19th century, giving the bridge the look that it has today.

Templo De Diana: (Diana’s Temple)

Of the many buildings dedicated to religious use during the Roman era, this is the only structure to have survived. The building, built towards the end of the first century, was attached to the municipal forum, and, although it’s name suggests otherwise, was actually used for Imperial Emperor worship into the 2nd century AD. The base of the Temple is granite, with 6 columns along the front façade. The granite columns originally where covered in stucco and stained red in order to imitate the much more ostentatious color of marble.

Other:

A visit to Mérida would be incomplete without also visiting the 3 three roman Aqueducts that supplied water to the city, The Alcazaba Arabe (Arab Fortress), any number of the Roman Houses that remain, and any of the Roman Plazas and public Forums that dot the city.