Mérida is a beautiful and historically important city and municipality of Spain, part of the Province of Badajoz, and capital of the autonomous community of Extremadura. It is in the western-central part of the Iberian Peninsula at 217 metres above sea level, the city has two rivers: the Guadiana and Albarregas. It became the capital of the autonomous community of Extremadura in 1983. The archeological site in the city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. In this article we review the most important sites and things to see in Mérida, Spain.

History of the Mérida

Romans founded Emerita Augusta as a Roman colony in 25 BC under the order of the emperor Augustus to serve as a retreat for the veteran soldiers. The city, one of the most important in Roman Hispania, had all the comforts of a large Roman city and served as capital of the Roman province of Lusitania since its founding and as the capital of the entire Diocese of Hispania during the fourth century. Following invasions from the Visigoths, Mérida remained an important city of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania in the 6th century. In the 713, the Umayyad Caliphate conquered the city, and then it remained under Muslim rule. The Mozarabic people of the island rebelled repeatedly against the Caliphate authorities in the 9th century and the city began a slow decline.

Top 10 things to see in Mérida

Teatro Romano – Roman Theatre

The Roman Theatre of Mérida is a construction promoted by the consul Vipsanius Agrippa. It was constructed in the years 16 to 15 B.C.E. One of the most famous and visited landmarks in Spain, the Roman Theatre of Mérida is regarded as a Spanish cultural icon and was chosen as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.

The theater has undergone several renovations, notably at the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century CE (possibly during the reign of Emperor Trajan), when the current facade of the scaenae frons was erected, and another in the time of Constantine I (between 330 and 340), which introduced new decorative-architectural elements and a walkway around the monument. Following the theatre’s abandonment in Late Antiquity, it was slowly covered with earth, with only the upper tiers of seats (summa cavea) remaining visible. In local folklore the site was referred to as “The Seven Chairs”, where, according to tradition, several Moorish kings sat to decide the fate of the city.

Anfiteatro Romano – Roman Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre of Mérida is a ruined Roman amphitheatre. The amphitheatre itself was completed in 8 BC.  This building was intended for gladiatorial fights and combats between beasts or men and beasts (venationes). The amphitheatre is part of the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, which is one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

Templo Diana – Temple of Diana

The Temple of Diana is rectangular in shape, stands on a high podium of granite that culminates in pieces of trim. Atop it rests the colonnade whose granite drums were plastered and painted. This colonnade surrounds the entire temple. Its front, at the south, has six columns over which the tympanum rested. A staircase, of which only the substructure remains, provided access to the cella. The altar may have been located on an exedra that divided the stairway. It was probably built while still under the power of Augustus. Its exceptional state of preservation is because, for centuries, the temple served as the foundation and shell of the renaissance palace of the Count of los Corbos, some parts of which are still preserved.

Circo Romano – Ancient Hippodrome

The Roman circus of Mérida (Spanish: Circo romano) is a ruined Roman circus. Its model was the Circus Maximus in Rome and other circus buildings throughout the Empire. Measuring more than 400 m in length and 30 m of width, it is one of the best – still standing – examples of Roman circus. It could house up to 30,000 spectators.

The Pórtico del Foro

The Pórtico is a front piece of the municipal forum used a couple of thousand years ago by its citizens. Just a block away from the Temple of Diana

Alcazaba – Moorish Castle

The Alcazaba of Mérida is a ninth-century Muslim fortification. Like other historical edifices in the city, it is part of the UNESCO Heritage List. It was the first Muslim Alcazaba (a type of fortification in the Iberian peninsula), and includes a big squared line of walls, every side measuring 130 metres in length, 10 m of height and 2.7 m thickness, built re-using Roman walls and Roman-Visigothic edifices in granite. The walls include 25 towers with quadrangular base, which also served as counterforts.

Puente Romano – Puente sobre el rio Guardiano

The Puente Romano, a bridge over the Guadiana River that is still only accesable for pedestrians, and the longest of all existing Roman bridges. Annexed is a fortification (the Alcazaba), built by the Muslim emir Abd ar-Rahman II in 835 on the Roman walls and Roman-Visigothic edifices in the area. The court houses Roman mosaics, while underground is a Visigothic cistern.

It is the world’s longest (in terms of distance) surviving bridge from ancient times, having once featured an estimated overall length of 755 m with 62 spans. Today, there are 60 spans (three of which are buried on the southern bank) on a length of 721 m between the abutments. Including the approaches, the structure totals 790 m. It is still in use, but was pedestrianized in 1991 as road traffic was redirected to use the nearby Lusitania Bridge.

Acueducto de los Milagros

The Acueducto de los Milagros (English: Aqueduct of the Miracles) is a Roman aqueduct. It was built during the first century AD to supply water from the Proserpina Dam to the ancient Roman colony of Emerita Augusta. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the aqueduct fell into decay and today it is in ruins with only a relatively small section of the aqueduct bridge standing. The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, including the aqueduct is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

National Museum of Roman Art

The National Museum of Roman Art is an archaeology museum located in Mérida. Devoted to Roman art, it exhibits extensive material from the archaeological ensemble of Mérida (the Roman colony of Augusta Emerita), one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain, registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Inside we can admire one of the best collections of Roman sculptures and mosaics on the peninsula. By visiting its rooms, we will understand how a great Roman city used to work and how it administrated a vast province, the most Western one of the Roman Empire. A visit to this museum also allows us to have a closer look to a variety of aspects of daily life of the first inhabitants of Mérida.

Arco de Trajano – Arch of Trajan

This arch was not a triumphal arch, nor was it dedicated to the figure of the famous Hispanic emperor. It was the monumental access gate to the sacred space that surrounded a giant Imperial cult temple, the whole arch being surrounded by a portico. This temple, in turn, was surrounded by the provincial forum, where we know of the existence of another temple dedicated to the Augustan Concord, some of whose pieces are part of the Obelisk dedicated to the Martyr.

The rounded archway, which has a height of 15 meters, was the central opening of a gateway with three arches – the two side ones being smaller and segmental in nature.

How to get to Mérida

By car

  • Madrid: From Madrid it takes 3,5 hours to get to Mérida. You should take A5 road.
  • Sevilla: It takes two hours to get to Mérida from Sevilla, via road A66.
  • Lisbon: You should choose A6 road, that connects the two cities. Within 3 hours you can complete the route.

By bus or by train

  • Madrid: From Madrid to Mérida the train takes about five hours and costs around 40 euros. However, the bus is a little quicker and cheaper.
  • Sevilla: There is one train per day from Sevilla that takes three-and-a-half hours, costing around 20€.  While, the bus takes around two hours (though travel times can vary) and costs 15 euros.
  • Lisbon: There are two buses per day from Merida to Lisbon, taking around three hours and costing about 30 euros. There is no train.

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Useful information about Mérida

Where to find Mérida is Spain?

Mérida is a city and municipality of Spain, part of the Province of Badajoz. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Extremadura.

Is Mérida in Spain connected with Mérida in Mexico?

Only in their names. One has Roman ruins, and the other has more Mayan ruins nearby. Mexican Mérida is very hot and the Spanish one is just hot. The Spanish Mérida is a small city of about 60,000. While the other in Mexico has a population of over 1 million.

Mérida was the Roman capital of Hispania?

The Romans founded Mérida in 25 BCE. They created it for retired Roman soldiers and indigenous people. Since the beginning, it was a significant city. In fact, within 20 years, it was already the capital of the province Lusitania. Eventually, it became the capital of all Hispania.

Best experiences in Mérida

Mérida has everything a visitor needs to have a great experience. Its natural beauty draws visitors from around the world- along with its numerous Roman ruins and cultural heritage. As far as things to do in Mérida go, there are plenty of activities available for visitors.

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