Spain > Extremadura > The Roman City of Merida

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MERIDA, 21 May 2009

Merida, founded 25 BC, is a Unesco World Heritage Site by virtue of having the most extensive Roman ruins in Iberia, and being a sucker for anything World Heritage Site, we opt to do a quick visit. Soon we are on the excellent Autovia A-66 cruising at 120km/h, the max allowed, heading northwards leaving Sevilla behind. [Note: Autovia is free expressway, Autopista is toll expressway.]
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The A-66 is not only scenic, but also a pleasure to drive on. We leave the Autonomous Community of Andalucia and enter the Autonomous Community of Extremadura, and Merida is its capital.
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Simple no-brainer message on a serious matter.
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What about KM666 on the A-66?
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Anyway, we have to get off here, unless we intend to go all the way to Madrid, some 320km away.
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Merida has only 60,000 people, but the ancient narrow one-way streets make driving a hassle, just like in the old part of Sevilla yesterday. At a junction, I spot an old bulding with unmistakeable Moor influence.
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We find free parking on the bank of the Guardiana river, and come face to face with a magnificient Roman bridge – Puente Romano. It’s the longest surviving Roman bridge, completed during Emperor Trajan in the 1st century.
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This hardy Roman bridge was in use by vehicular traffic till 1992, when it was pedestrianised till now. One of the 4 entrances into the ancient Roman Merida, with a span of 762m, it’s a tad too far for me to walk in this hot sun.
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The bridge leads into the Alcazaba, the 8th century castle cum fort, constructed by the Muslim Moors on an earlier Roman site.
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Walking towards the town centre, more wall of the Alcazaba, and a monument for Rome which mentions ‘Augusta Emerita’, the original name of Merida.
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Nearby, a town map is littered with Roman ruins.
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We stop in front of another old building to get our orientation.
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In front of us is the splendid town square – Plaza de Espana (seems to be a common theme for Spanish towns to have such-named plazas).
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Another angle of the square. It’s a hot day, so we can’t stay long here.
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I suppose this is the town hall.
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We leave via one of the narrow lanes typical of these old quarters.
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Soon we spot a major Roman ruin, the Arch of Trajan. It’s a sort of a triumphal gate leading to the city’s forum, the Roman public square or marketplace. Obviously from Emperor Trajan’s era (reigned 98-117 AD).
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In Spain, there’s this thing called ‘siesta’ when people take extended lunchtime to rest and to nap, say between 2.00pm and 5.30pm, especially on hot long days. Businesses then reopen from afternoon till night.
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And they take siesta very seriously in Merida. Only foolhardy, clueless visitors like us would wander the lanes in the hot sun.
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As we turn the corner along the lane, another major Roman ruin greets us – The Temple of Diana.
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There used to be a large square in front of this temple – some say it was built in 1st century BC to worship Emperor Augustus himself, then regarded as divine, not Diana. This is a rendition of what it might have looked like 2,000 years ago.
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A family was still living inside this building till 1972, when the state took over. Observe the intricate columns: Corinthian capital, fluted shaft, attic base. Must have been beautiful when the Romans were here.
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More lane wandering for us, smart locals in their homes siesta-ing.
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Wa-hey, another ruin! A portico of a Roman monument …
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… adorned with mugshots of god Jupiter and Medusa. More Corinthian columns.
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This is what we think the monument should look like a couple of millennia ago.
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Not to forget, the obligatory headless ancient Roman.
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We wander further, past a shop offering churros for brekky.
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At a souvenir shop, Merida is virtually an ancient Roman town.
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As the sun gets hotter, we arrive at the crown jewel of the ruins – the Amphitheatre, built 8 BC, could hold 15,000 spectators, bla … bla … bla, but unfortunately the whole complex is closed for restoration. All I can muster is this lame pic through the gate.
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It has been a long tiring walk in Merida under the hot sun, so it’s a relief to be hitting the expressway again.
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Our next stop is another icon of Andalucia, the historical city of Cordoba, 250km southeast of Merida.
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Along the way, extensive solar farms complement the windmills we saw before, as major sources of renewable energy. Spain is taking the matter very seriously.
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We re-enter the Autonomous Community of Andalucia as the terrain gets hilly.
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Remnants of castles or forts overlooking white villages dot this ancient roadway.
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After a mountain pass, the road descends into a valley where Cordoba lies. It’s slightly cooler here compared to lowland Merida or Sevilla.
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We are spending the night in the nearby village of La Carlota, so we skip downtown Cordoba for tomorrow.
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In La Carlota, as the sun sets, we do some grocery shopping, while the resident old folks awake from their siestas for the evening’s merry-making. Such is life in an Andalucian village.
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> THE END

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