The city of Emerita Augusta was founded in 25 BC by Augustus, to resettle honourably discharged soldiers from the Roman army from two veteran legions of the Cantabrian Wars (the Legio V Alaudae and Legio X Gemina). The city became the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania.
Today the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida is one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.
Visitors to Mérida can’t fail to be impressed by the archaeological and architectural heritage. The surviving monuments and structures give us a fantastic impression of how the place must have looked and life in Roman times. The state of preservation is impressive. It’s like stepping back in time. You almost expect to see a Roman centurion as you wander around the Roman theatre and amphitheatre.
The following are some of the main archaeological heritage sites in Mérida. Click on the links for a more detailed article.
The Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano) in Mérida, constructed in the years 16 and 15 BC, is Europe’s best conserved, and after restoration, the only Roman theatre which continues to be used today for live theatre. It has seating for an audience of around 6,000.
The Amphitheatre of Mérida (Anfiteatro de Mérida) was completed in 8 BC. It was built for gladiatorial fights and the hunting and killing of wild animals, known as venationes. It has an elliptical arena, surrounded by tiered seating for around 15,000 spectators, divided according to Roman rank and status.
The Circus of Ermita Augusta, built around 20 BC, is located outside the city walls. The arena track was an elongated U-shape, with one end semicircular and the other flattened. Hence it provided a continuous track for chariot racing. Tiered stands provided seating for around 30,000 spectators – pretty much the city’s entire population!
Puente Romano over the Guadiana
The Puente Romano spans approximately 790 m, making it one of the largest surviving bridges of ancient times. The location was carefully selected to make use of a central island. Therefore, the original bridge was in two sections. Following storm damage in the 17th century, the two sections were joined with several additional arches, forming a continuous crossing.
Los Milagros aqueduct
The Milagros aqueduct supplied water to the Roman Colony of Emerita Augusta, now Mérida, Spain from the Albuera Reservoir, approximately 5 km north-west of Mérida. The structure is well preserved, especially the section that spans the valley of the river Albarregas.
Temple of Diana
The Templo de Diana (Temple of Diana) is a Roman temple built late in the 1st century BC, in the city of Augusta Emerita. In the sixteenth century AD it was partly re-used for the palace of the Count of Corbos.
The Mithraeum house was found fortuitously in the 1960s. It is located on the southern slope of Mount San Albín. The house was built using blocks of unworked stone in the peristyle house with an interior garden. The complex has been recently restored and is under a roofed covering.
Abderramán II built the Alcazaba of Mérida in 835 AD. It is the oldest preserved Muslim defensive fortress in the Iberian Peninsula. Located next to the Roman bridge over the River Guadiana it provided a stronghold to control the city, which since 805 had rebelled continuously against the rule of the Emirate. One of the highlights is the underground water tank which kept the Alcazaba supplied with water.