Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida
Archaeological Ensemble Of Mérida
Cultural Spain Europe And North America Province Of Badajoz, Autonomous Community Of Extremadura

Mérida is symbolic of the process of Romanization in a land that had hitherto not been influenced by the urban phenomenon. It contains the substantial remains of a number of important elements of Roman town design, considered to be one of the finest surviving examples of its type;the aqueducts and other elements of Roman water management are also especially well preserved and complete.

Emerita was founded by Augustus in 25 BC at the end of his Spanish campaign. Its first inhabitants were time-expired veterans of the legions that made up his army. Three years later it became the capital of the new Roman province of Lusitania, and played an important role as the base for the conquest of the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula. Its site was a classic one, where a major road crossed an important river (the Quadiana), and it became a very important administrative, commercial, and communications centre. Emerita benefited from the rule of the Spanish Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Diocletian who endowed it with splendid public buildings. Christianity was established there in the 3rd century, and it was quickly to become the seat of an archbishop. With the pacification of the peninsula by the Visigoths from 457 onwards it flourished as the capital of one of the six provinces, and enjoyed a special role as cultural centre. In 711, the remains of the Visigothic army took refuge in Mérida. The town was always a centre of opposition to Moorish rule, so in 834 Abderrahman II ordered to be built a fortress (Alcazaba) to guard the Guadiana bridge (25 BC). Mérida was recaptured by a Christian army in 1230. A brief revival under Los Reyes Catolicos in the late 15th century saw the town drained of resources, both human and material, during the Portuguese and Catalan rebellions against Philip II.

The main monuments in the World Heritage site are the Guadiana bridge (two sections of arches linked by a large pier with massive cutwaters, built from granite and concrete);the amphitheatre, for 15,000 spectators, part of the original layout of the town, which occupies two insulae and was inaugurated in 8 BC;the classic Vitruvian theatre, set into a low hill and inaugurated under M. Agrippa;the peripteral and hexastyle Temple of Diana ,probably from the early years of the 1st century AD and converted into a private residence in the 16th century;the alleged 'Arch of Trajan,' which may have been an entrance gate to the original town or, more likely, to the enceinte of the Temple of Diana;and the Circus, one of the largest in the Roman world, probably contemporaneous with the foundation of the colonia..

Other sites include two columbarii (family tombs);the water supply system to Emerita, including three dams, well-preserved stretches of underground water channels and substantial remains of aqueducts (the Proserpina and Cornalvo dams, both still functioning, are the most remarkable surviving examples of Roman water management systems;the Basilica de Casa Herrera, a palaeo-Christian basilica with a double-apsidal nave and side aisles of a well known North African type;the Martyr Church of Santa Eulalia (substantial traces of the original church dedicated to Santa Eulalia, martyred under Diocletian;and the Alcazaba, which exhibits some characteristic Byzantine features.

The massive walls, with their 25 bastions, enclose an almost square area. There are no permanent and contemporary buildings in the interior, but there are abundant traces of the Roman houses and streets that were removed to allow its construction.