Merida is not a large place, with a population of around 64,000 people. A pleasant place, it is not different from many other Spanish towns, with friendly people, many bars and restaurants with one exception, that being that as being one of the Roman Empires capitals in the Iberian Peninsula it is home to some of the best preserved Roman Ruins in Europe. As a result in 1993 it was established as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.The town was founded in 25 BC, with the name of Emerita Augusta which means discharged soldiers – of the army of Augustus, who founded the city; the current name Mérida was derive from this, changed and altered by its conquest by the Muslims and other down through history. Its main purpose for all these conquers was to protect a bridge over the River Guadiana.
The path of the Camino Pilgrim will take you over this bridge with 64 granite arches that remain intact and in use to this day as a pedestrian walkway and is one of the longest Roman bridges remaining in existence. At the end of this bridge stands the Alcazaba a fortress that was initially built by the Romans, but later occupied by the Moors. Over it main gate you will find a reference dedicating it to Allah.
In more recent history it was taken and occupied by Napoleon, and both opposing side of the Spanish Civil Wars, such was its strategic importance. Further into the town you will find sitting side by side, a Roman Forum and Theatre. The former similar to that found in Italica, was use for gladiator fights and as you proceeds down the stairs into the ring it offers life-size mock ups of the different types of gladiators, their specific armour and who they would normally fight. However of the two the theatre is the most spectacular. While breathtaking as a tourist attraction, it is still used for plays and festivals by the local population.
Equally as spectacular is the Temple of Diana. Surprisingly this building is surrounded by a simple fence low fence to protect it from errant tourists, is located close to the centre of town on one of Merida many pedestrian walkways, such that hundreds of working Spaniards walk by it ever day on the way to and from work.
more great stories and architecture tomorrow….
Text by W.E.Foreman Photos by JMeyersForeman