Took about 2 1/2 hours to get to Merida from Sevilla. Mérida is the capital of western Spain’s Extremadura region, which was founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. Remains of the ancient city include the still-used Teatro Romano, which has a double tier of columns rising onstage. The ancient Puente Romano, a 792m bridge spanning the Río Guadiana, adjoins the Alcazaba, a 9th-century Islamic fortress built over Roman walls. It is in the Province of Badajoz.
The closer we got to Merida we started to notice many vineyards, along with wheat fields.
There are flags throughout the town advertising the classical theatre festival that will take place in July. I can imagine how spectacular it would be so see a play amongst these ruins. The outdoor theatre sits up to 6,000 people
The population as of 2017 was 60,119 so a small city. The “Archaelogical Ensemble of Merida” in on the the Unesco World Heritage list as of 1993.
This is the first time we are out of the Andalusia region, main reason being that it was a stop on the way to Evora in Portugal.
We wondered why so many well preserved Roman ruins in a place that we thought was really in the middle of no where, but on further reading I find out that this city was strategically located at the junction of major Roman roads from Leon to Sevilla and Toledo to Lisbon. The guide book notes that the city has never regained the importance it had during Roman times, other than the Roman monuments, and that the city is rather plain.
We arrive to find our hotel, easily this time I might add, and Robin was ushered to the parking garage by a staff member. Seems quite common that parking garages belonging to hotels and apartments, aren’t necessarily located in the same place, let alone same block. We get settled, nice small hotel with lovely outer deck. It is quite cool here compared to Sevilla; about 19C and overcast when we arrived.
We are interested in the museum, but it is closed on Mondays, so will try to take it in tomorrow. All the major Roman ruins are within walking distance of one another.
We walk to the “Teatro Y Anfiteatro Romano” and very impressed with its size and condition. As we went to pay, the lady asked if we were “seniors”. She gave us a 50% discount and the ticket is good for the other Roman sites, with exception of the Museum. We were quite surprised, in France they only give discounts to seniors if you are part of the Euro community……bonus marks for Spain!
There are workers, assumably archeologists or their assistants, who are working on some of the site. Using small brushes to undercover some of the ruins and one lady is using a brush with some type of liquid to clean off some moss/algae. Seems very painstaking. We spend quite some time here and hardly anyone else around. They say these are the best preserved Roman ruins in Spain. While we are in the Teatro we run into two separate couples, one from Mexico and the other from Brazil. Think we are the only foreign tourists! Robin and the Brazilian strike up a conversation about the World Cup.
Some of the pictures below have explanations that were on placards on the site.
Must admit that not many foreign tourists here, mainly Spaniards visiting the area. I believe that this is off the tourist track and one must make the effort to come here. This is also evident in the fact of the food that is served and when restaurants operate. Went out for dinner on our first night at 8 pm, which we think is late and the restaurants here do not open till 8:30. My poor digestive system!
While waiting till 8:30 pm to find somewhere to eat, we walk down to the Plaza de Esapana; which is Merida’s main square. It is filled with many bars/restaurants and tables outside (even though a little cool outside) are packed with locals enjoying drinks and tapas. The city hall is at one end of the plaza and the midst of the square is the “Arco de Trajano” part of a Roman city gate. Great for people watching.
We also view the “Temple of Diana” which is literally on the same street as our hotel, basically surrounded by shops and houses. It is said to be the oldest of Merida’s Roman ruins. The Temple of Diana (Templo de Diana) was a sacred site constructed by the Romans in the early first century AD, after the conquest of the area by the Emperor Augustus. It is incredibly well preserved.
Our hotel does not provide breakfast so we have to go out. This morning we found a small trendy restaurant for breakfast; but all they serve is tostadas. Basically a large bun, similar to a small baguette with different toppings. We looked at other places, but no one serves eggs or what we would classify as a North American breakfast. A “normal” breakfast has been available every where else we have been, but as mentioned, Merida is off the beaten track. All part of the adventure.
Tuesday, the 5th of June we head off to view some of the sights of the city. Our first stop is to view the Roman bridge. There is a walking path below, which we took later, and further along the path, a pedestrian bridge which goes over to a few islands in the centre of the RIo Guadiana, which have been turned into park areas. We see cyclists, runners and walkers enjoying this area.
Next stop is the Alcazba Arabe (fortress). This was built by the Romans and strengthened by the Visogoths and Moors. Have seen reference to VIsogoths a lot in the areas we have visited, so from my reading up on them, I will provide a little bit more information. I love history, so can’t help myself.
The Visigoths were one of the most important of the Germanic peoples. They separated from the Ostrogoths in the 4th century and proceeded to raid Roman territories repeatedly, and established great kingdoms in Gaul and Spain. O.K., now we all now about the Visigoths!
Once again some “archeological types” are working around the area, one even had survey equipment, not sure what he was doing. I found that the most interesting building was the cistern. A small building, well preserved, with steps and ramp going down to a cavern still containing water today. The historians feel that beast of burden went down these ramps to haul back the water for the people.
Also an original Roman passage way/road still exists……Brenda…..an “iter” , a word often used in crosswords.
We head off down the path by the river and walk about 20 minutes to the next archeological site. The “Casa Mitreo y Columbarios” is a late-1st- or 2nd-century Roman house with a well-preserved fresco and several intricate mosaics. What is interesting about this site is the metal roof that the city has installed over the complete area for preservation of this historic site. Beautiful mosaics and original paintings still evident, although some parts are missing. Archeologist working here as well.
Next to the Casa Mitreo is Merida’s bull ring which was built in 1914 and is still used today.
We go to the main square, Plaza d’Espana for lunch. Next to us sits a local man and his dog. Before you know it, the dog has sat next to me, so I start to pet him and rub his ears. I stop, then he puts his head on my lap. I said to the dog in Spanish as we left “quieres venir a Canada”….do you want to come to Canada. His owner got quite a chuckle out of this. I continue to say “es frio”….is cold and the owner replied in Spanish “that might be better than our heat”. I love this interactions with locals.
I have to laugh….Robin posted the picture below on his Facebook page and it got the most likes of any other picture of Merida. I think deep down inside, people are all animal lovers!
Meant to comment on something peculiar that we noticed on our way from Grazalema. We were nearing Merida and stopped in a small town for coffee/tea, a kind of truck stop and there were napkins and garbage such used sugar packets, plastic stir sticks all over he floor. A cleaning woman was in process of sweeping everything up. Well, then we notice the same thing in the outdoor cafes int he main square in Merida, people simply throw their garbage on the ground. We have not noticed this anywhere else in Spain, weird! In fact, in Sevilla, there is always a small garbage bin near the table.
In the late afternoon, we head off to the “Museo Nacional de Arte Romano” which was built in 1981. The scale of this museum is quite something. The main exhibition hall is 50 feet high (cathedral like) and there is a main level in addition to two upper passageways. We were so impressed by the displays, the mosaics, some as high(big) as 30 feet, frescoes, jewelry, statues, pottery, household utensils and a variety of Roman remains. The pictures we have of the large mosaics will show some blank spaces; but for the most part, so well preserved. This museum is world class, glad we did not miss it……and yeah, the seniors, yes even Canadian seniors got in for free. Who says my grey hair doesn’t pay off!
Merida was certainly a surprise to us. The roman ruins were amazing and the museum was definitely first class.
On our last morning, we find a small cafe that serves smoothies and tostadas. Great to get some fruit, even if in the form of a smoothie. Very cloudy day and cool as we head off to Evora, Portugal for the next three days.