Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida

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From the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida World Heritage inscription:

The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, located in Extremadura, Spain, has its origins in the year 25 BC when Augustus completed the conquest of the North of Hispania and founded the Colony of Augusta Emerita. The city was created as an idealized model of Rome and was the capital of Lusitania, the western-most province of the Roman Empire. Following Diocletian’s reform, it functioned as the capital of the Diocese of Hispania. It was also temporarily the royal seat of two Germanic peoples – the Suebi and the Visigoths – and under the Arabic dominion, Mérida was one of the three border capitals of Al-Andalus, together with Toledo and Zaragoza, ensuring control of the western part of the Iberian peninsula.

The modern city of Mérida has been built on top of Emerita; yet, archaeological remains are well preserved and still evidence the Roman city. The 22 component parts of the property comprise an area of 31 ha. These include buildings for entertainment (theatre and amphitheater), the public architecture of the Forum and other spaces of power (provincial forum), engineering works (bridges, the dike, cutwater and clean and wastewater systems), and religious buildings, such as the Temple of Diana or the Temple of Marte. The property also includes excellent examples of private architecture, such as the Casa del Anfiteatro, La Casa Basílica, or Casa del Mitreo, which represent daily life. Most of the elements are located within the walled area of the Roman colony, but some are found outside its walls, such as the dams, aqueducts or thermal baths of Alange, in a natural environment and a landscape that has remained comparable to one of Roman times.

Overview

Mérida is a city in the Extremadura region of Spain with a population of 60,000. The city was originally founded as a Roman colony and it is best known of its Roman ruins.

The Roman ruins in the city are probably the best in the entire Iberian peninsula and among the best in the world. In addition to the signature Roman theater (see above), there is also a well-preserved aqueduct, one of the longest Roman bridges in the world, an amphitheater, arches, and a circus. The museum of Roman artifacts is one of the best museums of its kind that I have ever seen in the world.

Mérida should easily be on any list of top places in the world to visit to see Roman ruins and artifacts.

Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida UNESCO World Heritage Site
Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida UNESCO World Heritage Site

The modern day city of Mérida was founded as the Roman town of Emerita Augusta in 25 BCE. “Emerita” is Latin for “veteran” and it is the root word for the modern English word “emeritus”. Augusta comes from Emperor Augustus who founded the city. This was the city for the veterans who served under Emperor Augustus who were promised land as a reward for their service to Rome. The modern name of Mérida is derived from the Latin name for the city, Emerita.

The modern city of Mérida is laid out on top of the ancient Roman city and follows much of the same layout that the Romans created. While the city is much larger today, evidence of the Romans can be seen all over town.

What to see / Sights

There are several notable Roman ruins and attraction which should be seen on any visit to Mérida. Most of them could probably be seen in one full day, but two days would be optimal to make sure you see everything.

Anfiteatro Romano

Anfiteatro Romano, Mérida, Spain
Anfiteatro Romano

The amphitheater is not as large as what you will find in places such as Rome, Verona, or Arles, but it served the same purpose. It was a place for gladiatorial games where men and animals would fight each other. The amphitheater is located adjacent to the Roman Theater and they are both included in the same entrance fee.

Opening Times
1 October to 31 March: From 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
1 April to 30 September: From 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The monument is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Entrance Fees
General Admission: €12
Over 65, and 12-17: €6
Entrace to Museum, Theater, and Ampitheater: €15

Teatro Romano

Teatro Romano, Mérida, Spain
Teatro Romano

The theater is one of the best preserved Roman theaters in the world. This is due to the fact that it was buried for centuries on the orders of a local bishop. When it was excavated, much of the columns and artwork was in pristine condition. There are still events which are held at the theater and if you are there on the right day you can attend a concert.

National Museum of Roman Art

National Museum of Roman Art, Mérida, Spain
National Museum of Roman Art

The museum isn’t just a fantastic collection of Roman art and artifacts, the museum building itself is a great work of architecture. Viewing the collection can easily take half a day if you try to see everything. In addition to the collection, there are ruins which can be found below the museum. You should make sure not to miss this as it is easily be forgotten as you are viewing all the art.

Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana in Mérida, Spain
Temple of Diana in Mérida

The temple is located in the middle of town and it can easily be visited on foot from the theater and amphitheater. The temple has a Rennisance era villa inside of it which was built as a palace for the Duke of Corbos in the 16th Century. Even though the villa is not from the Roman period, it was decided to leave it as it is part of the history of the location.

Casa del Mitreo

Casa del Mitreo, Mérida, Spain
Casa del Mitreo, Mérida

The Casa del Mitreo is one of several Roman homes which are located below the municipal building in Mérida. It is located along the river, not far from the Roman bridge. The Casa del Mitreo itself has well-preserved floor mosaic as well as the outlines of many of the walls.

A single entrance is €6 or it is included in the €15 all-access pass.

Circo Romano

Circo Romano, Mérida, Spain
Circo Romano

The circus is where chariot races were held. It was the Roman version of a race car track. The circus is located outside of the old, Roman part of town but surrounded by what is today a residential neighborhood. The outline of the circus is still visible and there is a monument located in the middle of the track.

Puente Romano

Puente Romano, Mérida, Spain
Puente Romano

The Roman bridge is the longest existing Roman bridge in the world. The bridge was the original reason why the city was founded at this location. The city was designed to protect the bridge over the Guadiana river, and one of the end points on the Vía de la Plata.

Acueducto de los Milagros

Acueducto de los Milagros, Mérida, Spain
Acueducto de los Milagros

The aqueduct brought water to the city of Emerita Augusta. It has long since ceased functioning, but the original structure brought water from the hills over 20 miles away. The largest part of the aqueduct is outside of the old town and is in a public park. There is no fee to visit and walk around the ruins.

Arco de Trajano

Arco de Trajano, Mérida, Spain
Arco de Trajano

The Arch of Trajan is one of the smaller structures in Mérida, but one of the most impressive. It is located in the middle of town. The arch itself is pretty well preserved and extends over the modern day street of Calle Trajano.

Roman baths in Alange

Roman baths in Alange, Spain
Roman baths in Alange

The Roman baths are located in the town of Alange, which is approximately 30km outside of Mérida. The baths were built on a hot spring and were originally built by the Romans. It still functions as a spa today and there are parts of the original Roman structure which can be seen. As it is a separate facility, the fees to enter are separate from any of the other attractions. The fee for the spa circuit is €35 which takes about 2 hours. A cheaper tour of the facility where you don’t enter the water is also available. Note: there was almost no English spoken by any of the staff and the tours are only offered in Spanish.

Photography Tips

There is a lot to see in Media, and much of it is surrounded by modern buildings. I’d suggest getting up in the morning to photograph the places which don’t have an entrance fee or entrance times. This would include the Aqueduct, the circus, the Temple of Diana, and the bridge.

Then go to the Roman Theater and the amphitheater when it opens at 9am. This will give you the best light for both places, especially the theater, which is the showpiece of Mérida.

Go to the museum and the Casa del Mitreo when the sun is highest and in the mid-afternoon. Both are either indoors or are covered and do not get direct sunlight. Remember that lunch is eaten very late in Spain, usually at least at 2pm.

Where to stay

Hotels in Merida

How to get there

Airports

The closest international airports to Mérida are in Madrid, Seville, and Lisbon. Driving time from each airport is approximately 3-4 hours.

The closest domestic airport would be in the city of Badajoz which is 70km away.

By Car

Mérida is connected to the rest of Spain by major highways and it is easy to reach by car. Drive times from international airports are as follows:

Madrid: 4 hours
Seville: 2 hours
Lisbon: 3 hours

Public Transportation

There are 6 daily buses which go from Madrid to Mérida each day. Ticket prices are approximately $35 one-way. There are also buses available on a daily basis from Lisbon and Seville.

Cost

Prices in Mérida are similar to what you will find in most of Spain but slightly cheaper than what you will find in the largest cities. Prices for hotels and meals can vary greatly depending on where you stay or eat (see above), but there are affordable options available.

Weather

Mérida has a moderate climate and it will seldom snow in the winter.

Average temperatures range from 50F/10C in January to 79F/26C in August.