Mérida’s Roman Ruins – Remnants of Ancient Civilization

Mérida, Spain is another destination in Extremadura that far surpassed my expectations. The city itself is underwhelming—its 40,000 residents make due with their rather run-down city center. But when you imagine ancient Mérida (Augusta Emérita), the capitol of the Roman province Lusitania and one of the Roman Empire’s most important cities, you begin to understand the significance of what Mérida has to offer today.

Merida Roman Theater

Like Cáceres and Trujillo, Mérida is full of history and ancient architecture—it has more Roman monuments than any other city in Spain. I was surprised to learn this, as I had no idea that only 2 hours from Seville (my former city) and 3.5 hours from Madrid I could see such incredibly well preserved Roman ruins— rivaling the ruins in Rome in their magnificence.

Puente Romano

Merida Puente Romano

After visiting Rome various times, I thought I’d seen enough Roman ruins to last a lifetime! But the ruins in Mérida were amazingly well preserved and practically tourist free. For a good example, just take a look at the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). Mérida’s Puente Romano is a 2,000 year old Roman bridge that looks as if it could have been constructed recently! It is the longest (790 meters) and longest surviving bridge from Roman times.

Puente Romano Illuminated
The Puente Romano at Night

Amphitheatre

We started our self-guided tour at the Roman Amphitheatre. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, the Amphitheatre once hosted gladiatorial combats. I liked how half of the monument was restored, to show how it must have really looked in Roman times, while the other part was left alone.

Merida Roman Amphitheatre

Roman Theater

Walking into Mérida’s Roman theater is incredible. It is absolutely gorgeous, extremely well-preserved, and simply immense. I am hoping to return to Mérida this summer to see a theater performance at the Mérida Roman Theater Summer Festival. As a functioning theater, it is supposedly the only Roman monument that still serves its original function today!

Roman Theater Merida
Me, taking in the Roman Theater!

Roman Theater Merida 2

One of the statues in the theater's gardens.

Acueducto de los Milagros

Merida Aqueduct

Only a small portion of the Acueducto de los Milagros (Miraculous Aqueduct) still remains intact today, but it is certainly enough to impress. The miracle, actually, is that any of it is left at all, as people used to take its stones to build other constructions around the city.

Alcazaba

The Alcazaba was a Muslim fortress that remains from Spain’s period of Moorish Rule. It was occupied by the Christians in 1230 when they took over the city. Inside, you can still see remains of the Roman baths, roads, shops, and dwellings. The views of the Puente Romano and the river from the Alcazaba’s outer walls cannot be missed.

Ancient ruins in the Alcazaba.
Old and New: Two Bridges in Mérida

Mérida’s Semana Santa

We were lucky to stumble on a Semana Santa procession after having dinner. Take a look at the deeply religious events.

Merida Semana Santa

Merida La Virgen
La Virgen

La Flor de Al-Andalus: A Mérida Budget Hotel

We highly recommend staying at the budget hotel La Flor de Al-Andalus. Only a 2 minute walk from the train station and within 15 minutes of all monuments, its location was ideal. The room was comfortable, there was free wireless internet, and a helpful staff. I wouldn’t pay extra for the breakfast—there are plenty of better choices nearby.

Our comfy and cute hotel room.

Cheap Tapas in Mérida: La Dehesa del Castúo

Mérida doesn’t have many restaurants to choose from, and most are mediocre. This place is far from fine dining—but they do their own thing and they do it well. La Dehesa de Castúo is actually a shop filled with regional foods from Extremadura. However, the bar and small patio restaurant offer about 100 different toasts, each with different hot and cold toppings. The toppings (most of which are sold in the store) are superb, ranging from Iberian Ham to Smoked Cod and Barbate Tuna.

La Dehesa del Castúo
Delicious toasts and beer for dinner.

Next Step: Marketing Places Like Mérida

Overall, Mérida was a pleasant surprise, and really enforced my opinion that Extremadura (and many parts of Spain) don’t know how to market themselves! While this is great for me as a tourist (no lines, better deals, no random people in my pictures…), I think it is a shame that Spaniards are suffering a horrible recession while perhaps tourism holds an answer. I mean, if you are teaching English in Spain and have 500€ for a vacation— do you choose 2 days in Rome or a week in Extremadura? Probably Extremadura if you know it exists!

What do you think? Is Spain making the most of its tourism potential?

Comments

  1. says

    Alfonso is from Mérida, and he invited me one rainy, nasty weekend to visit with him and Christene. I was floored with the gorgeous ruins and highly recommend the archealogy museu, too. We went on a holiday, which made it free, and they’ve preserved so many of the artifacts found. And, yes, totally agreed on the mediocre food. Luckily, we had Petri to cook for us!

  2. Jaydan Freyone says

    I spent one week in Merida, the city has an interesting charm, small, friendly and everything is within walking distance try to go either in Spring or Autumn for it is too hot in the summer. Nevertheless the most impressive aspect about this city is its Roman Ruins, not only the Temple, and both Amphitheater and theatre but also the Circus Maximus, Necropolis and many other remains throughout the city. The Roman Museum of Roman Art is also a must see for you will not be disappointed. If you go to Seville make sure to pay Merida a visit two hours away, Merida is very laid back and you will not find the place overwhelming. Merida has plenty of Hotels, bars and restaurants, it’s not far from Salamanca or Madrid either.

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