Mérida's Teatro Romano

Visiting the Roman Sights in Merida, Spain

When we decided to do a road trip from Madrid, Spain to the coast of Portugal last year, we decided to find a city or a town to stay overnight on the way, rather than drive the 600 km (372 miles) or so in one day.

The names of towns and cities along the three different routes that GoogleMaps suggested for us didn’t tell me much, so I turned to guidebooks of Spain from Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and to TripAdvisor reviews.

three different routes from Madrid, Spain to Obidos, Portugal that GoogleMaps suggested as a possibilty
three different routes from Madrid, Spain to Obidos, Portugal that GoogleMaps suggested as a possibilty

In the end, I’ve decided we should stop in Mérida, a place I’d never heard of before, because every guidebook I looked at suggested visiting the city’s Roman ruins, and we like ancient stuff like that.

We arrived in Mérida on a Friday afternoon and went sightseeing on Saturday. Given all the historical attractions in Mérida, I was really surprised by the low number of tourists we saw.

Clearly Mérida is not as popular as it was during the Roman times, which is really too bad.

Mérida's Plaza de España
Mérida’s Plaza de España was nearly empty when we visited.

Originally called Emerita, Mérida was founded in 25 BC by emperor Augustus. After becoming the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania, it was once a very important city in the Roman Empire, and according to the Lonely Planet, it is “home to the most impressive and extensive Roman ruins in all Spain.”

Mérida’s Roman monuments were placed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1993 and in my opinion are definitely worth seeing.

map of Mérida's Roman monuments
map of Mérida’ Roman monuments

The sights are located all over the city, as you can see in the map above, and while we went to the theatre and amphitheater first, you can certainly choose your own route, depending on where you’re staying.

Sadly, the map is only available in Spanish, as far as I know, as is the Consorcio Ciudad Monumental de Mérida website, but you can browse through the Turismo de Mérida’s What to see section to decide what you’d like to see.

Information about ticket prices is listed in Spanish at Tipos de entrada a los monumentos.

The price of 12 € that you see listed is for adults. Youth 12 to 18 years old pay 6 €, and children under 12 get free entry.

adult and youth tickets for sights in Merida, Spain
adult and youth tickets for sights in Merida, Spain

The entry fee covers six monuments:

  • Teatro y Anfiteatro
  • Alcazaba
  • Zona Arqueológica de Morería
  • Cripta Santa Eulalia
  • Circo Romano
  • Casa Mitreo y Columbarios

Hold on to your ticket because you’ll have to show it at each entrance.

For the hours, best check updated schedule at Horarios de los Recintos Monumentales de Mérida, but even in the winter time the monuments are open 9:30am to 7:00pm.

Teatro Romano | Roman Theatre

Built around 15 BC, Mérida’s Teatro Romano was quite large even for a Roman theatre, and could seat around 6,000 spectators.

Teatro Romano in Mérida, Spain
Teatro Romano in Mérida, Spain

The theatre was divided into three sectors, caveas summa, media, and ima.

The lowest sector, cavea ima, was set aside for visitors of the highest social status – the nobility, magistrates, and priests.

Entrance to cavea ima, at Teatro Romano in Mérida, Spain
Entrance to cavea ima, at Teatro Romano in Mérida, Spain

The other classes sat higher, and got to their seats through separate passageways, much narrower than the entrance for cavea ima.

entrance to sectors for classes of lower status at Teatro Romano in Mérida, Spain
entrance to sectors for classes of lower status at Teatro Romano in Mérida, Spain

With the fall of the Roman empire, the theatre fell into ruin as well, and until it was excavated in 1910, only the top rows of seats were visible.

Nowadays this magnificent landmark is used as theatre again, for performances of the Festival Internacional de Teatro Clásico de Mérida (International Festival of the Classical Theatre in Merida). The 2015 schedule includes Homer’s The Iliad and Aristophanes’ The Frogs, among others.

I wished I knew Spanish to be able to watch plays in this magnificent setting.

Anfiteatro | Amphitheatre

The Roman Amphitheatre, located right next to Teatro Romano, is a bit younger – it was built in 8 B.C. and was dedicated to another popular past time of its era – the Gladiatorial Games. It’s a much larger structure, and could fit around 15,000 spectators.

Anfiteatro Romano, Roman Amphitheatre in Mérida, Spain
Anfiteatro Romano, Roman Amphitheatre in Mérida, Spain

The amphtheatre is not as well preserved as the theatre, but it includes large illustrations of different types of gladiators and descriptions of what they were called and what kinds of weapons they used.

Dimachaerus, from Greek, he who uses two knives, covered his head with a closed helmet and both legs with bands. To protect his body he wore a breastplate or a coat of mail. Dimachaerus specialized in hand-to-hand combat, and was armed with a short sword or dagger in each hand.
Dimachaerus, from Greek, he who uses two knives, covered his head with a closed helmet and both legs with bands. To protect his body he wore a breastplate or a coat of mail. Dimachaerus specialized in hand-to-hand combat, and was armed with a short sword or dagger in each hand.
Portico of the Roman Forum

On the way to your next monument you will see the remains of the old Augusta Emerita Municipal Forum, built around the first century to resemble the Augustus Forum in Rome.

Portico of the Roman Forum in Merida, Spain
Portico of the Roman Forum in Merida, Spain

The medallions on the forum are decorated with images of the god Jupiter and Medusas, separated by Greek-style figures.

An illustration in front of the ruins of the Roman Forum in Merida, Spain shows what the forum might have looked like when it was still in use.
An illustration in front of the ruins of the Roman Forum in Merida, Spain shows what the forum might have looked like when it was still in use.
Diana’s Temple

Next on the way, you will see massive columns that were part ofan Imperial Cult Temple, originally thought to be a temple to goddess Diana.

Diana, or rather an Imperial Cult Temple in Merida, Spain
Diana, or rather an Imperial Cult Temple in Merida, Spain

The temple was most likely built under Augustus, but at the end of the 15th century, Knight of the Order of Santiago, Alonso Mexia, built a palatial residence over its remains.

Being incorporated into the Palace of Los Corbos, also known as the “Casa de los Milagros” (house of miracles), helped the temple survive till the present day.

Alcazaba | The Arab Fortress

Even though it is part of the monuments tour, the Alcazaba, of the fortress, is  not Roman, but was built in the 9th century by emir Abd ar-Rahman II of Córdoba.

Alcazaba, the Arab fort in Merida, Spain
Alcazaba, the Arab fort in Merida, Spain

Within the walls of the Alcazaba a set of narrow, stone steps lead to an aljibe, a rainwater tank including a cistern to collect and filter water from the river.

Puente Romano | The Roman Bridge

The Roman Bridge in Mérida was one of the longest bridges of its time – it is nearly 800 meters long (nearly half a mile), 12 meters (40 feet) high at the highest point, and boasts 60 arches.

Puente Romano, Roman Bridge in Mérida , Spain
Puente Romano, Roman Bridge in Mérida , Spain

The bridge was built out of concrete covered in granite ashlars. The small arches between the pillars supporting the bridge were built to decrease the resistance of the structure against the current when the river flooded.

The bridge spans over a little island turned into a well-kept park with running/walking/biking paths and playgrounds.

Advice for Visiting

Remember to wear comfortable shoes when you visit Mérida!

The sites are quite a large distance apart. Parts of the town are also hilly.

If you are visiting in the summer, bring a water bottle with you. The day we were walking around was incredibly hot, and we didn’t see any stores where we could buy something to drink, just cafes.

The kids whined so much we decided to go back to the apartment instead of seeing all six sites included in the price of the ticket.

Nevertheless, I hope the photos above of the few monuments we did visit convinced you that Mérida is well worth visiting.

I only wish more information about the sights was available in English.

Where to Stay in Mérida

When we stayed in Mérida, we booked a two-bedroom apartment we wrote about in “Apartamentos en Merida (Spain) – A Review.” But you can, of course, choose a different place. There are quite a few hotels and apartments to choose from. Take your pick!

Shout Out to #WeekendWanderlust

#WeekendWanderlust, hosted by Chris & Heather (A Brit and a Southerner), Carmen (Carmen’s Luxury Travels), Jessi & Tara (Outbound Adventurer), Ashley (A Southern Gypsy) and Lauren (Justin Plus Lauren), is a collaborative effort to share travel blog posts, and to discuss all travel-related things! Each week, the five group hosts write a blog post that has the link-up at the bottom.

#WeekendWanderlust logo
#WeekendWanderlust logo

 

23 thoughts on “Visiting the Roman Sights in Merida, Spain”

    1. Thank you for reading, Andrea! Roman ruins are fascinating because of how old they are. I also loved the theatre that was renovated to hold plays again. Merida is definitely worth a visit!

    1. Thank you for reading, Kelly! Portugal and Spain are definitely worth visiting for a history buff. I’d be happy to talk more about our trip if you’d like to meet. We’re right in MA, probably within twenty or so miles from where you are. :)

    1. Thank you for reading, Lauren! My husband likes Roman sights, so when we went to London for a few days, we made a special trip to Bath just to see the Roman baths, and once we spent quite a bit of time driving around Algeciras trying to find their Roman ruins. Never found them, btw. Merida is an interesting place to visit. Hope you’ll see it some day.

    1. Thank you for reading, Megan! I’m glad you liked this post. I hope you’ll get to see Merida some day.

    1. Thank you for reading, Revati! I still think you should stop in Merida if you’re in the neighborhood. It was a fun road trip, and I’m glad we stopped there, and not somewhere else.

    1. Thank you for reading, Mary! Apparently Spain includes quite a few Roman ruins, though you need to know where they are. We searched for some in another town, but couldn’t find them. Merida is definitely worth a stopover if you’re in that region of Spain.

    1. Thank you for reading, Vasudha. Merida sure is an interesting place. I think I liked the theatre and the bridge the most, but the others were worth seeing as well.

    1. Thank you for reading, Lyn! Funny you would say that. Australia is on MY bucket list, Roman ruins or not, but yes, those places that are close to two thousand years old or more are quite fascinating.

    1. Thank you for reading, Constance! Merida is interesting. I’m glad we decided to stop there on our way. I do hope you’ll see it too some day.

    1. Thank you for reading, Patti! If you’ve been to Mexico and Egypt, Merida might be a minor attraction for you, but if you’re passing in the neighborhood, it’s worth stopping by.

  1. I nearly fainted when I read about the Classical Theatre Festival in the summer, thank you so much for sharing!
    I’m going to visit Mérida this weekend and I am so excited, but I would love to book some flights back in August just to see the Aristophanes play…

    1. Thank you for reading, Robyn! I hope you’ll like Merida. It’s an interesting place – it looks like the more vibrant part of town is across the river, but I’m still glad I stopped there during our road trip. And yes, seeing a play in that setting must be quite amazing.

  2. Beautiful! We’ve been in Split where we’ve seen some quite amazing ruins in the area. Spain is a place we want to go soon (we have someone who’s asked us about homesitting their place) and Merida’s ruins really look impressive.
    Helpful post.
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…A Day Trip to Trogir, CroatiaMy Profile

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