Mérida (World Heritage)

By | August 17, 2021

Mérida, capital of Extremadura, was founded in 24 BC. Founded by Emperor Augustus for war veterans. The archaeological sites with the Arch of Trajan, the theater and the amphitheater, two aqueducts, temples and villas give an insight into urban life in the Roman province of Lusitania.

Mérida: facts

Official title: Buildings from Roman times and the early Middle Ages in Mérida
Cultural monument: former Roman city, Emerita Augusta, on the old Roman silver road from Salamanca to Italica near Seville; with numerous architectural monuments: i.a. two partially preserved Roman aqueducts, called Los Milagros and San Lázaro, Roman bridge with 64 granite arches; Parts of the Trajan Arch, today Arco de Santiago, remains of the Augustus Temple, parts of the Concordia Temple that were integrated into the Parador »Via de la Plata«; Roman theater for 5500 spectators as well as amphitheater for up to 15,000 visitors and Circus Maximus with 400 m long racecourse
Continent: Europe
Country: Spain, Extremadura
Location: Mérida, on the middle reaches of the Río Guadiana, east of Badajoz
Appointment: 1993
Meaning: “Spanish Rome”, an outstanding example of a Roman provincial city from the Roman Empire

Mérida: history

25 BC Chr. Settlement of V and X Legion veterans
18 BC Chr. Construction of the Roman theater
at 240-313 heyday under the reign of the emperor Diocletian
457 Visigoth invasion and decline of the city
713 Beginning of the Moorish rule
835 Construction of the Alcázar of Abd ar-Rahman II.
1228 after the Reconquista in the possession of the Knightly Order of Alcántara
1921 Discovery of accommodation for gladiators in the basement of the amphitheater
1993 Resumption of play in the Roman theater

Imperial greatness in »Spanish Rome«

In the evening, hundreds walk across the almost 800-meter-long old Roman bridge over the Guadiana River to the old city center of Mérida. Mopeds revolve around the replica of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus, a gift from the city of Rome. The inhabitants of the capital of the Spanish province of Extremadura live as a matter of course with their 2000 year old heritage. Aqueducts and arenas surround the city center, ancient sites and triumphal arches adorn the streetscape. Remnants of temples and colonnades were integrated into Renaissance palaces and churches. The building of the regional government stands on stilts: parts of the Roman city complex were discovered under the foundations.

The origin of Iberian Rome with its imperial architectural monuments goes back to the establishment of the “Emerita Augusta” settlement at the crossroads of the Roman roads from Salamanca to Seville and from Toledo to Lisbon. It was the work of Publius Carisio, a legate of the Emperor Augustus. The settlement, intended for well-deserved veterans, quickly blossomed and became the tenth largest city of the Roman Empire. The imperial size can still be felt in the ancient theater, which used to hold a few thousand visitors. The three-tier auditorium with separate entrances reflects the hierarchical Roman social order. The two-story stage building attests to the grandeur of Roman rulers, whose images, together with statues of gods – the seated agriculture goddess Ceres sits enthroned in the center of the stage building – stand as replicas between marble columns. Due to the semicircular arrangement of the auditorium, which is nestled against a hill, the perfection of the acoustics has also been achieved here, which makes it possible to hear the tearing of paper on the stage even from the top tier.

Vis-à-vis the landmark is also the testimony to the bloody variant of Roman entertainment games. In the oval amphitheater, which could seat up to 15,000 spectators, you can still see the entrances for the gladiators and a rectangular recess in the middle, in which lions were presumably kept. In the Museum of Roman Art, a well-preserved mural shows a gladiator armed with a lance in close combat with a lion. Originally mistaken for an arena for water features, excavations in 1921 revealed the true meaning of the amphitheater. Historians consider the ensemble of the two theaters to be evidence of the outstanding political and cultural position of the former Lusitan capital, for which quarries were opened and reservoirs were built.

Numerous patrician villas such as the neighboring Casa Anfiteatro also demonstrate the upscale lifestyle in the Roman administrative city. Exposed water pipes and mosaics not only give an insight into the elegant Roman living, but also show everyday scenes such as the “autumn mosaic” with a representation of the pounding of grapes.

The pearls of the Roman heritage have been housed in the massive museum building in the immediate vicinity of the theater since 1986. According to franciscogardening, Spain’s star architect Rafael Moneo designed the light-flooded halls in the style of a Roman street with round arches and slightly uneven brickwork. Remains of Emerita Augustas – villas and a necropolis – were also found under this building, which were integrated into the museum complex as an exposed basement. Inside, in addition to statues of rulers and gods from the theater, the Diana temple and the ancient forum, monumental mosaics with hunting scenes and mythological content are on display. Grave steles, heads of gods and objects of daily life – from coins and gold jewelry to tools and dice games – convey the luxury and standard of living of the ancient metropolis.

Mérida (World Heritage)