As I am sure most of you realise I am an Australian and this is an important fact in understanding of this weeks blog. In Australia we have very little architecture that is over 150 years old. In fact on the Sunshine Coast where I live the majority of the buildings are actually under 30 years. Yes you read correctly, under 30 years old. To say we are a young country in architectural terms is an understatement to say the least. So if any of you Europeans out there feel my prattling on about Roman ruins is a little “ho hum” then I hope the facts I have just shared explains my position. It is simply mind blowing to me that the amazing designs and workmanship of humans living a minimum of 2000 years ago still exist and functions in our modern world.
Which brings me to my tourist destination of the week – Merida, Badajoz Provence, Extremadura Region.
Merida is simply amazing!
A relatively small city of approximately 60,000 residents, it sits quietly in a lovely rural area that produces grain crops and wine. Lying in a south westerly direction approximately three hours from Madrid, it is easily accessible by both road and rail. What I had originally planned to do was stop in Merida on my way to Sevilla and I have now come to realise was actually the best idea, oh well you live and learn and I got there anyway!
Why is Merida amazing, simply put it is the sheer number of buildings and structures that not only exist but in some cases are still functioning, such was the skill of the Romans, much of which is an easy walk from one site to another. As with the other historic towns I have visited these sites are generally situated in or around the original heart of the city.
We begin our walk on the edge of the city centre and head to a path that follows the Rio Guadiana. My first taste of the Roman ruins that Merida has in abundance is the Acueducto de los Milagros or Miraculous Aquaduct. Tall and proud it stands in the middle of a public park, with an actual walking track running under one of the arches. This in itself miraculous, no guard rail to keep you a safe distance away no hordes of tourists. In fact the day we were there I only saw one other tourist taking in its beauty.
The next stop the Roman Bridge, built in 25BC, over the Guadiana River is a marvel to this day, thanks mainly to incredible Roman workmanship but also to conservation efforts by the subsequent invaiders, the Visigoths and Moors to name a couple. This bridge still retains 60 of its original 62 arches and is today a foot bridge for residents and tourists but was still in use for vehicles up to 1993 and was in fact the main access route into town. At 700 mtrs in length it is the longest Roman Bridge in the world one of the most beautiful.
The overlapping of conquering nations truly epitomises Spain’s cultural heritage, it’s sometimes hard to tell when one period of rule ends and the next begins. At the enterance to the bridge stands the Alcazabar (Arab fort) that the Moors seemly built in every major town they at one time controlled. In the shade around the northern wall we found tables and chairs set under pencil pines and other trees, with only two other customers it was peaceful and cool. The food was rustic and extremely tasty and perfect way to break our sightseeing for an hour. I chose a nice meal of chicken, salad and homemade chips for €6.00 but I could of had goat stew or partridge pie for approximately the same price.
Resuming our wandering we passed the remaining ruins on the way to the prize. The Temple of Diana, Portico del Foro and other historic sites, all however, pale into relative insignificance in comparison to the King of Merida, the Roman Ampitheatre. The Ampitheatre in particular demands your imagination to picture not only the crowds cheering gladiators but the slaughter of man and beast. It is a powerful place and a prime example of what is good and bad about mankind.
An interesting but sad side point for me was the realisation that bull rings of Spain were actually throw backs to these Roman sports. For me the round shape was the give away and when I researched it I found this was in fact the case, present day bullfighting is a continuation of entertainment popular in Rome.
The highlight for me however, was the grace and beauty of the Queen of Merida, the Roman Theatre, which stands regally next to the ampitheatre and serves in contrast as an reminder of what height of culture and art the Romans achieved. On the day of my visit a theatre performance was scheduled for that evening only 2041 years after the first performance in 25BC.
Merida is beautiful clean town that has obviously taken to heart the message of the poster below.
It reads in English ” educate your owner”. I personally think it should also say ” I can’t do it on my own”
In closing I just want to say if you don’t ever go to another Roman historic site, go to Merida, everywhere else cannot compare.
- Try making your trip in either spring or Autumn. The heat of summer is the only thing that will marr your visit. I used a parasol all day but I still felt like I could almost get heat stroke by the time I finished at the theatre.
- On the same note make sure you carry a huge bottle of water. There is age eat fountain at the entrance but no other water for the rest of visit around both the Ampitheatre and Roman Theatre.