In its heyday, the Roman Empire encircled the Mediterranean and then some, but despite this, many people are unaware of the treasure trove of ruins that awaits them on the Iberian Peninsula. One of the best places to visit if you’re in Spain is the small Extremaduran town of Mérida and the Merida Roman Ruins, located almost equidistant from Seville and Madrid. Once known as Augusta Emerita, this Roman colony was the capital of the province of Lusitania.
Merida Roman Ruins: A Brief Guide to Exploration
Visit the Amphitheatre
Rivalling Tunisia’s El Djem, the amphitheatre in Nîmes, France and of course Rome’s Colosseum in atmosphere if not in size or completeness, the amphitheatre in Mérida has one distinct advantage over those better known sights – a lack of crowds. It was built around 8BC with a capacity of 15,000 people who would have gathered here to watch gladiators fight. Next to the amphitheatre stands the more fully restored theatre. A few years older and with some splendid (if headless) statues of deified emperors decorating the stage, it’s still in use today. The town holds the Festival de Mérida annually to stage a summer of plays.
One of the great delights in visiting Mérida is to discover how the place has grown up around and on top of its Merida Roman ruins. A stroll along Calle Sagasta, one of the town’s main streets, reveals first the Forum and then the enormous Temple of Diana. Absorbed into the Palace of the Duke of Corbis in the 16th century, this huge temple resplendent with Corinthian columns could hold its own anywhere. Surrounded by shops and cafes, however, it gives the impression of fighting for its right to remain, the last bastion of Imperial Rome under attack from an encroaching modern Spain.
Casa Del Mitreo
Everyday life from Roman times is most apparent at the site of the Casa Del Mitreo located a short distance from the town’s bullring. Amongst a complex of rooms adjacent to a Roman cemetery, you’ll find some beautiful mosaics in these Merida Roman Ruins. The best, and the one to look out for, is the partially intact 3rd century mosaico cosmológico, in which human figures depict elements of the known universe.
What will probably be the highlight of your visit can be found at the bottom of the hill where the town straggles towards the bank of the Guadiana River. There, overlooked by a 9th century Moorish citadel, you’ll find the sixty remaining spans of the old Roman bridge built in two sections linking the town to a fluvial sandbank. It’s now pedestrianised, and the perfect setting for a stroll at the end of the day as the sun is setting.