The Roman colony of Emerita Augusta (present day Mérida) was founded in 25 BC by Augustus, to resettle emeritus soldiers discharged from the Roman army from two veteran legions of the Cantabrian Wars: Legio V Alaudae and Legio X Gemina. The city was 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.
The theatre was built from 16 to 15 BC and dedicated by the consul Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. It was renovated in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, possibly by the emperor Trajan, and again between 330 and 340 during Constantine’s reign, when a walkway around the monument and new decorative elements were added. With the advent of Christianity as Rome’s sole state religion, theatrical performances were officially declared immoral: the theatre was abandoned and most of its fabric was covered with earth, leaving only its upper tiers of seats (summa cavea). In Spanish tradition, these were known as “The Seven Chairs” in which it is popularly thought that several Moorish kings held court to decide the fate of the city.
The amphitheatre was dedicated in 8 BC, for use in gladiatorial contests and staged beast-hunts. It has an elliptical arena, surrounded by tiered seating for around 15,000 spectators, divided according to the requirements of Augustan ideology; the lowest seats were reserved for the highest status spectators. Only these lowest tiers survive. Once the games had fallen into disuse, the stone of the upper tiers was quarried for use elsewhere.
Roman bridge over the Guadiana
The bridge can be considered the focal point of the city. It connects to one of the main arteries of the colony, the Decumanus Maximus, or east-west main street typical of Roman settlements.
The location of the bridge was carefully selected at a ford of the river Guadiana, which offered as a support a central island that divides it into two channels. The original structure did not provide the continuity of the present, as it was composed of two sections of arches joined at the island, by a large Starling. This was replaced by several arcs in the 17th century after a flood in 1603 damaged part of the structure. In the Roman era the length was extended several times, adding at least five consecutive sections of arches so that the road is not cut during the periodic flooding of the Guadiana. The bridge spans a total of 792 m, making it one of the largest surviving bridges of ancient times.
Los Milagros Aqueduct
The aqueduct was part of the supply system that brought water to Mérida from the Proserpina Dam located 5 km from the city and dates from the early 1st century BC.
The arcade is fairly well preserved, especially the section that spans the valley of the river Albarregas. It is known by this name, because it seems a miracle that it was still standing.
Temple of Diana
This temple is a municipal building belonging to the city forum. It is one of the few buildings of religious character preserved in a satisfactory state. Despite its name, wrongly assigned on its discovery, the building was dedicated to the Imperial cult. It was built in the late 1st century BC or early in the Augustan era. Later it was partly re-used for the palace of the Count of Corbos.
Rectangular, and surrounded by columns, it faces the front of the city’s Forum. This front is formed by a set of six columns ending in a gable. It is mainly built of granite.
An entrance arch, possibly to the provincial forum. It was located in the Cardo Maximus, one of the main streets of the city and connected it to the municipal forum.
Made of granite and originally faced with marble, it measures 13.97 meters high, 5.70 m wide and 8.67 m internal diameter. It is believed to have a triumphal character, although it could also serve as a prelude to the Provincial Forum. Immersed in the maze of modern construction and masked by nearby houses, this arch stands majestically and admired by travelers and historians of all times. Its name is arbitrary, as the commemorative inscription was lost centuries ago.
This building was found fortuitously in the early 1960s, and is located on the southern slope of Mount San Albín. Its proximity to the location of Mérida’s Mithraeum led to its current name. The whole house was built in blocks of unworked stone with reinforced corners. It demonstrates the peristyle house with interior garden and a room of the famous western sector Cosmogonic Mosaic, an allegorical representation of the elements of nature (rivers, winds, etc.) overseen by the figure of Aion. The complex has been recently roofed and renovated.
As mentioned above, it is not considered the actual mithraeum but a domus. The remains of the mithraeum are uphill from it in a plot corresponding to a current bullring. This site has rendered prime examples of the remnants of Mithraism. According to professor Jaime Alvar Ezquerra of the Charles III University of Madrid, the oldest mithraeum artifacts are observed outside of Rome and Mérida “is at the head of the provincial places where the cult is encountered”. These are currently located in the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, including the latest remains found in excavations as recently as 2003. He notes that some of the sculptures being discovered at the site are in very good condition, leading him to believe they were “hidden on purpose”.
Merida Aqueduct, Acueducto de los Milagros
Merida Mithraeum House
Merida Roman amphitheatre
Merida Roman bridge over the Guadiana
Merida Roman Theatre
Merida Temple of Diana
Merida Trajan Arch