/ Merida Featured Hotels
Even the hotel itself is built in
a 'Roman amphitheatre' style and is alongside one of the main Roman roads
that led to the city allowing us to march smartly down to the Roman bridge.
Recently pedestrianized, the bridge has been in constant use for over 2000
years. Repairs over the years have been in keeping with the original style
and the majority of it is original. It is one of the finest examples of
Roman architecture in the peninsular. Sixty arches carry the bridge across
the river to the south gate into the city. On the right of the gate are
the original walls. Those to the left have been demolished. It is easy
to imagine the legionnaires breathing a sigh of relief after marching from
Portugal with their destination in sight.
Once in the city the choice of destinations
is daunting. To cover the Roman period a visit to the amphitheatre and
theatre is a must. The theatre is the best example of its kind in western
Europe. Next to the theatre is the amphitheatre. Built in 8 BC it is also
an excellent example with many of the passages below the seating still
in their original form. The pit in the floor was where gladiators and wild
animals were kept prior to their 'performance'. Many people are confused
by the words theatre and amphitheatre, expecting the latter to be a semi
circle and the former to be round. During the early part of the Roman Empire
gladiatorial games to the death and pitting man against beast were popular
entertainments. These took place in the round amphitheatre. Later, during
the Imperial period, plays and music became popular and for these purposes
the semi circular theatres were built.
A visit to the Museum of Roman Art
near the theatre is also a must. Here you can see the usual glass, coins,
statues and other artefacts found during excavations but the two highlights
are the fine mosaics, and the examples of Roman water technology. Some
of the mosaics are huge and extremely well preserved. Romans were as class
conscious as any other people and mosaics were used to impress friends
and neighbours. The smaller each individual tile in the mosaic the more
detail can be achieved with consequential increases in cost.
It is the technology that really
impresses. Huge bronze valves used to isolate sections of water piping
for maintenance, valves to control the rate of flow of water and one-way
valves. A detailed video, also available for sale, shows how the Romans
understood and used water pressure to move water vertically as well as
horizontally. Given a few more years they could easily have invented the
steam engine. It is easy to realise how the uneducated Visigoths, who replaced
the Romans, found the technology incomprehensible and thus failed to maintain
wandering around Merida it is impossible not to notice other examples of
Roman architecture. There is an arch, still in use, monumental aqueducts,
bath houses unearthed beneath demolished buildings from a later era and
many examples of original walls still used in current buildings.
Breathtaking it may be but you still
have to keep body and soul together. Fortunately there is no shortage of
watering holes. Menu del Dia is definitely the way to go here and if you
get the chance try the ham. Extremadurans claim their ham is superior to
Serrano, and they are right.
A favourite form of entertainment
during Roman times took place at the Hippodrome or circus. The one at Merida
is one of only three known in Spain, the other two are at Toledo and Tarragona.
Built in an oval shape, over 400 metres long and 150 metres wide, the Merida
circus could seat 30,000 people, almost the entire population. They were
treated to chariot races, seven laps with no rules other than the winner
was the first across the finishing line. Champions were venerated, there
were no prizes for coming second and accidents were common. The chariots
were as light as possible and pulled by two or four horses. They entered
the ring at the start of the race via starting gates situated in a line
at one end of the circus, very similar to the start of a modern horse race
today, and thundered around the central platform that was called a spina.
On occasion the entire circus could be flooded to enable re-enactments
of naval battles.
The huge amount of water required
to flood the arena would have come from the aqueduct that passes the western
end of the circus. This is the Acueducto de San Lazaro and it is impossible
to miss it. The arches supporting the water channel march off for well
over a kilometre towards the hills north of the city. Notice how at the
circus end modern buildings abut the aqueduct. There are not many houses
with a finer arch at the end of the drive than the one here at Merida.
Recently excavated beneath the aqueduct is the site of a public baths area
and a sports area, a Roman desportivos.
Walking back into town you will next
arrive at the Casa del Anfiteatro that is a whole site in its own right.
The south section of the aqueduct emerges here and there is a water tower
with a house alongside. Inside the house you will find some wonderful mosaics.
From there it is a short walk to
the south end of town, near the bullring. You will come to a site called
Columbarios, which is a Roman cemetery. Two of the vaults have been identified
as belonging to the Julius family and the Voconius family. The cemetery
would have been situated outside the city walls as was customary at the
time. The epigraphs and portraits have survived. Leaving the cemetery you
will arrive at the Casa del Mitro. This was a large villa also situated
outside the city walls. Some wall decorations and mosaics have survived
along with the foundations, an extensive bath house and a huge underground
To really take away an idea of what
life was like around the 1st century AD then a visit to Moreria is essential.
This is a 12,000 square metre site behind the city wall alongside the river
north of the Roman bridge. Originally it was an urban area, the houses,
large and small are there to see, with a section of the east west main
road through the town. It is easy to imagine this bustling street with
covered arcades on each side housing shops and taverns. Four minor roads
lead off and penetrate the city walls to give access to the river. This
site is particularly important for revealing a continuous history of occupation
from Roman, through Visigoth to Moors and then Christians, each leaving
their layer for us to find.
Merida Featured Hotels