This beautiful ancient Roman city, situated in central Spain, is a national heritage site, and home to some of the richest Roman history in theatre, art, sculpture, architecture and city planning. It’s the destination for anyone visiting Spain with an interest in ancient history, and a great itinerary stop for tour groups.
A Short History of Merida Espana
Contrasted with the modernity and trendiness of modern Spain and Merida is another of Spain’s quaint yet awesome ancient cities, populated since prehistoric times. First founded in 25BC by the Ancient Romans who called in Emerita Augusta, the city is a treasure-trove of history over the decades. It’s home to a host of ancient Roman structures, artifacts and history. After being taken back and forth over the centuries by various peoples and factions, the city now remains part of Extremadura, an autonomous community.
Host to more ancient Roman monuments than any other Spanish city, the main points of interest here are pieces of Roman history. It’s earned the name mini-Rome for a reason. Here are some of the things you might take a look at in Merida:
- Merida Amphitheatre
- The Roman Theatre
- The Aqueducts
- Ancient Roman Dams
- The Circus Maximus ancient chariot racing track
- The Temple of Diana
If you have any interest in how the Roman empire lived, operated and moved, Merida is the place for you. A beautiful city seemingly frozen in time, the views alone are inviting enough to convince even those uninterested in Spanish-Roman history.
Merida Spain Map
Merida covers quite a large region, so you might want to explore the map before planning your trip, so you can make the most of your time:
Things to Do in Merida Spain
Here’s a little information about the things to do in Merida to give you an idea of what to expect before you go. Don’t forget to bring a camera to document the beautifully restored historical sites and artefacts, as well as some snacks to keep you going throughout the day if you’re not planning to stop off at some of the restaurants in the area (‘Para Comer?’).
1. The Museum of Roman Art in Merida, Spain
Commissioned in 1979 to celebrate the bimillennial anniversary of the founding of Emerita Augusta (not every country can boast a 2000-year-old city), the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, or National Museum of Roman art is an homage to Roman ingenuity and achievement.
Situated across the road from the famous Roman Theatre, the museum boasts a blending of the modern and ancient. The style of the theatre itself is a throwback to Roman architecture, and their incredible arches (which might not seem like as much of a feat today). It holds hulking stone structure housing beautifully treated, excavated and restored pieces of Roman art from around the region.
With statues, sculptures, motifs and more to show, many dating back into the BC years, the Museum of Roman Art should be number one on your destination list if you’re an art or history tourist.
2. Acueducto de los Milagros – The Miraculous Aqueduct of Mérida, Extremadura
Roman Aqueducts were yet another rung of their seemingly endless ladder of achievements and innovations. This aqueduct is unsurprisingly a world heritage site, and one of three supplying water to Emerita Augusta, built around the 1st Century AD.
The Miraculous Aqueduct, named as such due to the awe it brought upon those who saw it, stands at 25 metres high with a triple-arch structure. It runs for around 850m and, while impressive, stands shorter than its counterparts of the 15km Aqua Augusta. Altogether, they aided in the supply of water from the Cornalvo Reservoir to the people of the town.
The Aqueduct is a reminder of what humans are able to achieve, unassisted by modern technology. It’s also a reminder, in its state, to attempt to preserve the ways of old, as while underground piping may be the best way to get your water, it’s not anywhere near as awe-inspiring as the Acueducto de los Milagros.
3. The Roman Theatre in Mérida, Spain
Constructed in 15-16 BC, the Roman theatre is an incredible structure in which outdoor plays were hosted. It is now a historical site, as well as home to the Festival of Classical Theatre of Merida, where the ancient Roman theatre practices are kept alive.
Over the centuries, the theatre slowly became submerged in the earth, until only the top rows of benches remained – referred to as “The Seven Chairs”. It became local folklore that the Seven Chairs were where seven Moorish kings sat and decided the fate of the city.
Excavations began in 1910, when the equipment and methodology first allowed for it, revealing beautiful structures, statues and architecture the likes of which hadn’t been seen in hundreds of years. The theatre now stands as a tourist site, with a beautiful half-moon amphitheatre seating range, and massive 17m high stage complete with Roman columns and arches. It’s a spot in Merida you’d be sorry to miss.
4. The Prosperpina and Cornalvo Dams
To supply an Aqueduct with water, a dam is required. So, the Romans built them. Both national heritage sites, the dams of Prosperina and Cornalvo are testament to the mind-blowing level of proficiency the Romans had in architecture, urban planning and civil engineering.
Both using the Roman gravity dam design, where the water carries itself down the aqueduct. These dams are earth dams, meaning they used the landscape around them to create a pool of water. Both with their stone-clad retaining walls still in use they are by all means functioning dams, even though their aqueducts might not be.
More than just a water supply, these advanced dams were used for things like irrigation, erosion prevention, river-diversion and flood control. They’re more than enough evidence to back up the claim of Romans being technological geniuses ahead of their time, and seeing them in person you’ll be left with no doubts about it.
5. The Puente Romano Bridge
The Puente Romano bridge, which runs alongside the Acueducto de los Milagros, is the world’s oldest standing bridge from ancient times. It once ran 755m long, with 62 spans (arches) along it. It can be seen from the ancient Moorish holding, the Alcazaba of Merida, and is in use today as a pedestrian bridge.
While there’s not much more to it, it’s an essential quick stop as you travel around Merida, and it makes for a great photo opportunity with the gorgeous river and surrounds.
Merida is a trove of Roman history, and all the cultures that came in between their reign, and modern-day Spain. It makes for the perfect destination for anyone with an interest in Roman history, or school art, art history or even civil engineering tours.
Follow the immaculately restored footsteps of the Romans, Moors, and centuries of other Iberian populous, and get an idea of what life was like on this earth, at a completely different time. It’s hot in summer, so don’t forget to pack a hat, sunscreen and water bottle, and get ready for a trip through history as you’ve never had before.