On the right bank of the Rio Guadiana stands Mérida, also known as the Spanish Rome, was a stage on the silver road from Salmatica (Salamanca) to Italica (Seville). The name of the town is derived from the Roman Emerita Augusta, for it was founded as a colony for veterans of the V and X legions in around 23 BC, during the reign of Augustus.
It was soon promoted to the capital of the province of Lusitania, which comprised great parts of Portugal and Estremadura. Towards the end of Augustus’s reign it was one of the most important towns of the Roman Empire; many of its monuments were built by Agrippa, the Emperor’s son-in- law.
Under the Visigoths the town fell into decline, although Mérida was of some importance even under the Moors. Recaptured by Alfonso IX of León in 1228, the town came under the control of the Knights of Alcântara.
Mérida travel guide - Contents
5 Top Reasons To Visit Mérida
The main reason why people visit Mérida is to feel like a Roman citizen for a day and be able to enjoy some of the world´s best-preserved roman buildings. Mérida is a Unesco heritage site. The archeological ensemble of Mérida offers an overall fantastic example of a Roman provincial capital and as such, it is a prefect example of the Power of the Roman Empire. Merida is located in Extremadura in central-western Spain. The city is along with Caceres, the top tourist destination of this region.
Theatre and Amphitheater
The Theatre is Mérida´s main icon and a wide semicircular terraced auditoríum that could seat up to 5,500 people. The stage is behind the semicircular theatre and is still in use today. It is one of the most beautiful Roman complexes in the world. Built by Agrippa in 18BC l. The orchestra and the chorus area is some 60 ft. in diameter. The rear wall is a long two-storey façade with 32 marble columns with Corinthian capitals on tall bases. Behind this are actors’ rooms with well-preserved marble floors, columns, and statues.
Amphitheatre: Connected to the theatre by a 22 ft. wide passage, the amphitheatre
had a seating capacity of some 14,000. It is an ellipse, c. 422 ft. long and c. 340 ft.
wide. Fights with wild animals and gladiator combats took place here. A tall podium, formerly clad in marble, protected the audience.
The upper parts of the amphitheater are in condition. In 1921 underground gladiator quarters (spolaria) and animal cages (carceres) were discovered. Find more about the Roman theatre of Mérida in this post.
The circus maximus is located north of the theatre and Amphitheater. The race track of nearly 1,340 ft. long for two and four-horse-chariots) Despite only traces remain, like the spina a central wall with obelisks, around which the chariots raced, it provides a good impression of what the races would have been like.
National Museum of Roman Art
This Archaeological Museum is housed in a building built in 1986 by famous Basque architect Rafael Moneo (Kursal in San Sebastián) . The museum offers a vast collection of sculptures and architectural fragments from local temples, as well as inscriptions and tombs and also sculptures and architectural fragments from early Christian and Visigoth buildings. The best piece in the museum is a fantastic arch.
Iglesia de Santa Eulalia
Not everything in Mérida is from Roman times! And this church is without a doubt worth the visit. The church of Saint Eulalia on the Northern edge of the town has an interesting little porch (added in 1612), which incorporates parts of an old temple dedicated to Mars, the god of war, from the IC AD. The architrave, supported by two Corinthian columns, bears an inscription stating that Vetila, the wife of Paulus, dedicated this temple to the god Mars. During the building of the portico, a new inscription was added, ‘Dedicated not to Mars, but to Jesus Christ and to the virgin martyr Eulalia, to whom this temple is now re-dedicated.’
Eulalia (Santa Olalla), a Young girl during the rule of Diocletian, was ordered to renounce Christianity, whereupon she spat in the faces of the relevant officials and was burnt in an oven as a result. The chapel in front of her church is therefore called the Horno de Santa Eulalia. The church itself was founded in the 4C, enlarged in the 6C, but fully converted in the 13C, after the recapture of Mérida.
The main and side portals are Romanesque. The interior is late Romanesque and incorporates materials from Romanesque and Visigoth buildings (especially capitals). The churrigueresque altar dates from 1743.
Acueducto de los Milagros, trajano arch and the Roman bridge
Despite Mérida being a modern town and not just an archeological site, we can find amazing elements outside of the main archeological area. The granite Roman bridge across the Guadiana is one of these. Dating from 1C BC, its 60 arches extend 2,650 feet, it is one of Spain´s best-preserved Roman bridges.
Arco de Trajano (in the North. of the town)
The superbly preserved triumphal arch of Trajan, some 50 ft high, consists of four rows of granite columns with capitals. There is no real connection to Trajan and it is not clear why the arch was named like this.
The Milagros Acueduct
This is an aqueduct on the road to Caceres, which carried water to the town from Pantano de Proserpina, some 5 km. away. 37 pillars, 67-100 ft. high have survived. Of a second aqueduct, San Lazaro, there remain but three pillars.
Best Time To Visit Mérida
Weekends are normally busier since there are locals who get to Mérida to enjoy it for a day. In April, May and June there are school trips during the week-days.
Our favorite months to visit Mérida are march, april, may, early june, late september and october. We strongly recommend that you have a look at the Mérida festival calender to see if you can join one of the plays organised at the roman theater.
During early June there are representations to enjoy daily activities of Roman life. (search for Emerita Lvdica).
Easter can slso be an interesting moment to enjoy Mérida, with local Cofradías offering special “pasos” in the Roman bridge and the Trajan arch.
Weather In Mérida
Mérida enjoys continental weather with very hot and dry summers.