Yes, that’s right! Turn back the clock to 25 B.C. and the Roman city that would eventually become current day Mérida was taking form under the rule of Emperor Augustus. The city was then aptly named Emérita Augusta. Located a little over three hours southwest of Madrid, the capital of Extremadura is best known for the annual International Classical Theater Festival hosted in the famous Roman Theater. Although I did not plan my travels in order to attend this event, Mérida’s ancient past is stunning and will suffice any history buff’s craving for ancient artifacts.
There I was thinking that Roman warriors just hung around the Coliseum awaiting the next fight of man versus wild beast – guess not! The Romans had made their way to the Iberian Peninsula back in the day and a lot of ancient Roman remnants are peppered across Spain. In fact, many Spanish cities boast a Roman bridge (puente Romano) or two. Mérida by far holds the most impressive examples of the Roman past. Having known very little before catching a bus from Madrid with my best friend, my expectations were not very high for this small Spanish town.
After resolving a few hiccups in our lodging reservations, we enjoyed a leisurely Spanish lunch and set off to explore the town. Back in Madrid, fall arrived later than I had expected and apparently the same could be said all across Spain since the leaves were at their Autumnal peak on the first weekend of December. This pleasant surprise caused Mother Nature’s show of golden hues along the river to be as much a focus of our attention as the ruins themselves.
Mérida is divided by the Gaudiana River that has been transformed into an incredible recreational area with trails and footpaths for cyclists, runners, and families alike. The walk along the river is split up by small parks that will bring out your inner child. We found some swings and a jungle gym with which to ‘relive’ our favorite childhood memories. There was even a small island with basketball and tennis courts. These outdoor spaces were definitely not what we expected, yet a pleasant find as we strolled along the river while soaking up the last warm rays of the day.
Teatro Romano (Roman Theater)
- Excavation began in 1910
- Capacity for 6,000 spectators
- Only structure that returned to its original function
- Celebrated the Classical Theater Festival since 1933
- Inaugurated in the year 8 A.D.
- Arena for gladiator ‘games’
- Excavation started in 1919
- 3 seating sections according to social class
Circo Romano (Roman Circus)
- Constructed around 1 A.D.
- Largest of the structures for public shows
- Measures 440m long by 115m wide
- Capacity for 30,000 spectators
Puente Romano (Roman Bridge)
- Measures 792m long by 12m tall
- 60 Stone arches span the entire length
- In 1993 deemed a pedestrian bridge only
Planned effectively with access to a car, we could have easily spent a day exploring the ruins in Mérida and then the next day travel to Trujilllo and Cáceres (both small towns that warrant only a few hours to visit). This would make for a doable, but pretty busy weekend. Since my friend and I were at the mercy of the bus schedule and experienced a few road bumps after arriving, we decided to just enjoy the beautiful autumn-like weather and the nature that surrounded the town.
How has the weather impacted one of your travels either for better or worse?