The Roman Theater of Mérida is one of Spain´s most important tourist attractions. It is located in the community of Extremadura, about 3 hours southwest from Madrid, about 2 hours north of Seville, and about 3 hours from Córdoba.

This spectacular piece of Roman history was constructed in the years 16 to 15 B.C. promoted by the consul Vipsanius Agrippa in what was at the time the Roman city of Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania, currently the province of Mérida. The theater is so well preserved it is considered officially to be one of the 12 Treasures of Spain and, together with the Segovia Aqueduct, one of the best preserved Roman monuments in Spain. 

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Over the centuries the theater has suffered some renovations, most notably at the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century CE, during the reign of Emperor Trajan. At this time the current facade was added. Also, between the years 330 and 340 CE, during the reign of Emperor Constatine I, new decorative-architectural elements were added as well as a walkway around the monument. The building was abandoned during the Late Antiquity and was slowly buried with dirt and forgotten. Only the upper tiers of seats were visible when the site was finally excavated. These seats are, in local folklore, referred to as “The Seven Chairs”, where, supposedly, several Moorish kings sat and discussed the of the city.

The theater is just one part of a large entertainment complex which also includes the Amphitheatre of Mérida where gladiatorial event were held. They are both currently part of the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, which is one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

When was the Roman theater of Mérida excavated?

For centuries the only visible part of the theatre was the aforementioned “Seven Chairs”. It wasn’t until 1910 when archaeologist José Ramón Mélida began excavating the site. A lack of resources and of a proper methodology delayed the reconstruction efforts until the late twentieth century.

Finally, in 1933 the theatre was fully excavated and restored and re-opened for the first time and has played host to the Festival de Mérida (Festival of Classical Theatre of Mérida) since then. The Mérida Classical Theatre Festival is the oldest of its kind celebrated in Spain.

The theatre, in its time, had a seating capacity of 6,000, distributed in a semi-circle, facing the stage. The stands are 86 meters (282 feet) in diameter, divided into three areas: the innermost or ima cavea, (22 rows), the media cavea (5 rows), and summa cavea which have severely deteriorated.

The stage stood upon a platform or pulpitum and used to be covered with wood. The stone structure has holes drilled out of it that used to be used to place scenic backdrop posts and other atrezzo.

The most spectacular feature of the theatre, however, is the downstage setting or porticus post scaenam (frons frons). The structure is 63m long, 17.5 meters tall and 7.5 meters wide. It was constructed with a base of red marble upon which stand Corinthian columns with blue-veined marble as the shafts with white bases and capitals. These columns hold up a richly decorated cornice. Closing the backstage is a large marble wall that used to be decorated with different sculptures of the goddess Ceres, Pluto, and Proserpina amongst others. Thes statues are now kept at the nearby National Museum of Roman Art.

They are the goddess Ceres, Pluto, Proserpina, and other characters with togas and armor that have been interpreted as imperial portraits. Three doors

 

Who built the roman theater of Mérida?

The Roman empire is responsible for the construction of this spectacular theater. Construction began between 16 and 15 BC, ordered by consul Vipsanius Agrippa. The theater was updated in the 2nd century BC under the reign of emperor Trajan and once again between the years 330 and 340 CE, during the reign of Emperor Constatine I.

What was the Roman theater of Mérida used for?

The construction of theaters in Ancient Rome was done, mainly, for political purposes. The general population preferred other forms of entertainment such as the circus to watch chariot races or gladiatorial events at the amphitheater. The theater was used to spread pro-government propaganda highlighting the benefits of the Roman lifestyle. The beauty and grandeur of the theaters and the plays themselves were used to show the opulence and strength of the empire.

The Roman theater of Mérida was no different. The theater was used as a “hearts and minds” strategy by the roman empire to promote pro-roman sentiment throughout the colony of Mérida.

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