Mérida – Spain’s best kept secret

It’s a picturesque drive along the N430 to Mérida, Spain’s best kept secret – at least this Unesco site was a secret to me anyway.

Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome

Named Augusta Emerita by Octavius Augustus, it was founded in 25 BC and over the centuries was under Roman, Visigoth, and North African control.

St. Eulalia – Patron Saint of Merida

It’s possible to walk everywhere in this compact gem. One ticket gets us entry to so many architectural treasures.

Roman Aqueduct

We start though at the free Roman aqueduct and watch Mrs Stork fuss about on her messy nest on top of a Roman pillar. From there on, the day is magical.

Stork’s nest on Roman Column

There’s the Roman circus, where we learn of the charioteers – and in our minds re-enact  Ben Hur’s finest hour. The course symbolised the world, the teams of horsemen from different social groups competed, the Plebs wore green; the Patricians blue.

Roman Bridge over the Guadiana River

The Roman bridge spans the River Guadiana. A green oasis of a park lines its banks, the river’s two arms running around an island in the centre. An elegant white suspension bridge is a wonderful contrast to the antiquity.

View from Alcazabar Ramparts

As if it couldn’t get better, there’s the Alcazabar, first a Roman defensive fort, expanded under the Cordoba Emirate and Caliphate, it guarded the entrance into the city.

Islamic Carvings on Entrance to Underground Cistern

I love a rampart. From this one we gaze at pantile roofs, church spires and Arabic looking houses – a melting pot of history before us.

Stairs down into Cistern

The Alcazabar’s highlight for me though is the underground cistern, the impressive engineering of the stout tunnel down to the water at the bottom, complete with goldfish, the light from a window reflecting in the green pond. Beasts of burden carried the water up from here.

Pond in Underground Cistern

The graceful convent building’s arches tell of the final use of this amazing complex.

Alcazabar’s Convent Facade

We visit Diana’s temple, and marvel at the 15th Century noble who built a house between its columns, following the fashion for antiquity.

Temple of Diana

Local musicians play outside and the Arabic influences on Extremadura’s folk music are lyrical.  We sit, as people have done throughout the centuries, and enjoy the music.

Roman Theatre

Finishing the day at the Roman amphitheatre and theatre is the climax of this romantic dive into the past. We are astounded at the double decker columns, the Goddess Ceres watching from her throne over the theatre’s stage, the huge stepped arena rising up around us.

Ceres overlooking the stage

A sign tells of the strict social division in the Roman theatre, women confined to the Gods, children and teachers in another section, Patricians, freed slaves, then foreigners in various compartments. 

“I guess we’d have to share a bench as foreigners then,” an American man quips.

Gladiator’s Amphitheatre

The amphitheatre where violent combat took the gladiator’s lives – on average by the time they were 27 – is even larger and much more austere.

Entrance to Amphitheatre’s Arena

Mérida will also live in my memory as the place where I first tried suckling pig.  I did have some qualms about the piglet. My ever-pragmatic one pointed out that it was no different to an adult pig. I’m not sure I agree but have to admit it was delicious. 

Roman Theatre

If you want to read my story Diana, inspired by the Temple of Diana in Mérida, click on this link: https://campervanbard.com/2023/04/27/diana/

Mosaic in Roman Villa

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