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.
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.
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.
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.
The entry fee covers six monuments:
- Teatro y Anfiteatro
- 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.
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.
The other classes sat higher, and got to their seats through separate passageways, much narrower than the entrance for cavea ima.
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.
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.
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.
The medallions on the forum are decorated with images of the god Jupiter and Medusas, separated by Greek-style figures.
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.
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.
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.
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.