Located almost in the centre of the Autonomous Region of Extremadura, Mérida is the third city of Extremadura. It has over 55,000 inhabitants, which are called Emeritenses. The climate is a mixture of Mediterranean and continental, meaning very hot summers, with temperatures of 40°C and cold winters, with temperatures dropping to below zero.
The services sector is the primary source of income, along with tourism. Many tourists come to Mérida to visit the roman remains like the roman theatre, which is conserved pretty well.
Foundation of the city took place in 25 b.C. The name that the Romans gave to the city was Emerita Augusta, from which the actual name of Mérida originates. The city was founded in order to create a place for retired Roman soldiers. Many buildings were constructed, like the theatre, the amphitheatre, the circus, temples, bridges and aqueducts.
Mérida was an important judicial, economical, military and cultural centre, both during Roman rule as after the fall of the Empire. Until the day of today new ruins and Roman remains are found throughout the city.
After the fall the city suffered from various attacks and was taken by the Visigoths, who converted the city into their capital during the 6th and 7th century. Until 713 the city was under Christian reign but in that year it was conquered by the Arab leader Muza. The Arabs reigned until 1230 when King Alfonso IX took back the city. The city recovered and could grow under reign of the Catholic Kings. But the French caused a new decline when they invaded in the 19th century. The city suffered much cultural decay under the French regime but recovered again when they left. Something that helped the city recover so quickly was the fact that archaeologists from all over the world came to Mérida in order to uncover more ruins, hoping to find new archaeological treasures. This is why the city was eventually declared Human Heritage by Unesco in 1993.
But we don’t only find old monuments in Mérida, the city also has numerous buildings from the 20th century that are worth a visit like the Ciudad Deportiva, the Palacio de Congresos, the National Library and the Lusitania Bridge (by Santiago Calatrava). Now under construction is the enormous complex: the Complejo Cultural y de Ocio Hernán Cortés, where we will find museums, auditoriums, a shopping centre, cinemas, hotels and parking. In the area of infrastructure it is interesting to see that in 2010 Mérida will be connected to the network of the AVE (high velocity train) that connects Madrid to Lisbon. Mérida will be a way station and therefore a new station is being built outside the city centre that will facilitate arrivals and departures of the AVE.
With these new projects the city unites old with new and continues to develop itself in the years to come.
Monuments of Merida
The Roman Theatre
The theatre was built in 15 b.C. and could house over 6,000 people. The seating area was divided into three parts, one for every social class of that time.
The stage measures 60 by 7 meters and was originally of wood. The entrance of the theatre consists of two rows of columns that reach 18 meters into the sky, in between which are placed statues that serve as decorative elements. Behind the stage were various rooms that were used by the actors. The majority of the buildings have collapsed but the columns and seating area have been conserved reasonably well.
The Roman Amphitheatre
The amphitheatre had a capacity of 15,000 people and was inaugurated in the year 8 b.C.
It was built with concrete, natural stone and granite. It has 16 gates and 2 seating areas. In the central court fights between gladiators and animals took place. Two galleries gave access to the seating areas. You can also find rooms that probably belonged to the gladiators in these galleries. In the centre of the arena is a large pit where the scenic materials and spears were probably stored. Just like in the theatre, the seating areas were divided into three parts, one for every social class. What you can still see nowadays are the seating areas and the galleries.
The Temple of Diana
This temple actually served the Imperial cult. It was built near the end of the first century b.C. It is one of the few Roman buildings that have been well preserved, thanks to repairs. These repairs took place when the nearby Palacio del Conde de los Corbos was built in the 16th century. It consists of a rectangular floor that is surrounded with granite columns that were originally painted in red. Archaeological findings have indicated the religious importance of the temple and so it is a good thing that it has been preserved so well.