The capital of the region Extremadura lies roughly halfway from Seville to Jerte Valley therefore it was an obvious lunch break stop for us. Apart from the attraction of the possibility of food for two hungry travellers the town has other attractions as well, namely the amazing collection of Roman monuments. In fact, Mérida boasts of the most Roman monuments in Spain. Founded in 25BC by Augustus meant that it needed to provide a good range of ‘bread and entertainment’ for its habitants. We spent a few hours here (strictly AFTER having lunch) to sample some of these well-preserved ancient remnants.
In some ways Mérida is similar to Rome. You just walk along the street, minding your own business, turn around a corner and BANG there’s a huge Roman monument right in front of you. This is how we came across the Temple of Diana.
It is a pretty strange sight as it seems that every big nation who ruled these lands added something to it. The foundations were of course laid by the Romans themselves and the Corinthian columns stand tall and straight like sentinels of the era. Later came the Muslims in the 8-9th century and added a few typical arches on the back of the building. Finally in the 16th century some other dude called the Duke of Córbos decided to turn the whole thing into his palace. Even though it’s a real mixture of styles it still has an air of profound beauty about it.
After the majestic building of the Temple we moved on to the ‘real deal’, the Roman Theatre and the Amphitheatre. First we visited the latter. The place is huge but it gives you an idea of the popularity of the gladiator fights in those times. I knew they were a favoured past time but never quite thought that they built arenas that can hold this many people!
If you follow the ‘recommended route’ (they call it ‘recommended’ but in truth you’re not allowed to go anywhere else) you will find many descriptions that will educate you about life in the time of the Romans. There is a whole section about the different types of gladiators.
Right next to it there's the Roman Theatre which is the most incredible and well-preserved Roman monument I have ever had the luck to see. Let's face it you need a great deal of imagination to fill the rows with Romans wearing their white togas and discussing philosophy and politics but once you do this you will again and again admire the genius of the architects of that time.
The place is huge and you are free to walk around and touch everything around you. We were joking with Paul that if this was in the UK we would probably never be able to experience it the same way. It was simply incredible.
Every year the Festival of the Classical Theatre is held here where you just sit around these stone seats and enjoy classical plays performed under the marble columns. I hope on day we can see this, too, must be an amazing experience. You can read more about that here.
Finally we went to see the Circus Maximus. On the way we came across some other ruins with a stork nest on top. Let’s make use of the available space, shall we?
The Circus Maximus of Mérida is one of the best preserved within the Roman empire, apparently. Unfortunately we arrived during the time of siesta (damn these Spanish and their siesta) therefore we could only have a look from the side. To tell you the truth I don’t think we missed out on a lot as the place itself is a big flat grassy area.
This more than 400m long Roman hippodrome could hold up to 30 000 spectators. Again, you need your imagination here to imagine those Romans riding their horse carriages around. We saw however a photo of the area during the Semana Santa. If I had a chance to experience Easter in Spain again, after Seville this would definitely be my second choice to see it. I mean just look at this!
Finally, the Roman Bridge.
To tell you the truth Mérida itself did not impress us that much however if you have the slightest interest in history and the Romans you will definitely enjoy walking around here.