You don’t need to go to Rome to feel like a Roman. Mérida, the capital of the Spanish province of Extremadura, is the perfect place to explore the culture of Ancient Rome... and practice Spanish at the same time! Our very own Francisco Pizarro lets you know exactly what you should visit to make the most of your stay.
A little bit of History
Mérida (Emerita Augusta) was founded by roman emperor Augustus in the year 25 BC. It was one of the most important cities in the Iberian Peninsula at the time and it preserves more Roman monuments than any other city in Spain.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, many buildings maintained their use, which is why they were able to survive our times. Finally, in 1993, the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida became a World Heritage site.
To explore the Roman monuments of Mérida, you can start by La casa del Mitreo. The house was outside of the city’s walls, but it will set the mood for the remainder of the day. Romans decorated their walls with colorful paintings and often liked to have their own baths and thermal complexes at home, as you will be able to testify at Mitreo. Some of the painted tiles are still pretty much intact, and the structure is preserved well enough to understand how baths, running water and heating worked back in the day.
After visiting the house, you can walk towards the river and see the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), which is one oldest surviving Roman bridges. Next to the bridge, you will see the Alcazaba of Mérida, a 9th-century Muslim fortification.
From there you can move towards the city center, where the Temple of Diana and the Arch of Trajan are located. These temples correspond to the main public areas of Emerita Augusta. The Museo Nacional de Arte Romano (The National Museum of Roman Art) is not too far - maybe it’s time to apply what you learnt in your lessons and ask for directions.
Practice Spanish at the Museum!
The Museo is an excellent way to understand how Roman cities worked and what Mérida looked like once. I heavily suggest that you visit the museum before going to the Amphitheatre: you will enjoy it more once you know which details you should be looking for.
The Museo was designed by Rafael Moneo, a Pritzker Prize winner and one of Spain’s most famous architects. In fact, this is was one of his first projects to claim international attention - it maintains a somewhat Roman character, despite being a contemporary building.
The collection of the Museo includes several archaeological findings, such as Roman sculptures, home utensils, a little bit of a roman street. Reconstitutions of what would’ve been a roman house and the city of Mérida are also available. To practice your Spanish, you can try to read the objects’ descriptions in Spanish and make sure you got it right by verifying the English translation.
Not far from the Museo, you can finally find the Amphitheatre, an old and breathtaking Roman theater. Much of its structure is still preserved and its acoustics are intact. It’s still used every year during Mérida’s Classical Theatre Festival.
After you’ve seen the theatre, you can move away from the center and visit the Roman circus. Although many of its rocks have been removed over time by locals to build other houses, it’s one of the best preserved examples of a Roman circus. It had room of 30,000 spectators, and you can still get the gist of its grandiosity.
Finally, you should visit the Acueducto de los Milagros (Miraculous Aqueduct), which was used to supply water to the city.
I hope you enjoy Extremadura...and don’t forget to practice your Spanish while you’re here!