Mérida in Extremadura is a beautiful historical town with a fascinating wealth of Roman architectural remains in the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida .
One of the best preserved archaeological sites in Spain, the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1993. The Roman city of Emerita Augusta, present-day Mérida, was founded in the year 25 B.C. as a home for war veterans who were given lands on the fertile banks of the Guardiana River, which flows through the city. Located on the famous Silver Route, the Via de la Plata, Mérida flourished and was a walled city with several public entertainments - most notably the Roman theatre, amphitheatre and circus which can still be seen today. It was taken by the Visigoths, and later by the Moors who turned the city into an Arab fortress, until Mérida was brought into Spain by the reconquest of the Christian king Alfonso IX in the 13th century. The Visigoths and the Moors have both left their mark in Mérida alongside the incredible remains left by the Roman Empire.
Some of the most important Roman monuments in the ensemble, which are wonderfully preserved, are the Roman theatre that can hold 6,000 spectators and retains many of its stunning columns and statues, the nearby amphitheatre which can hold over 15,000 people and the impressive Roman circus which is one of the best preserved examples from the Roman Empire and measures 400m but 96m with room for 30,000 spectators. The Milagros aqueduct, the 'miraculous' aqueduct, was so named by the inhabitants of Mérida in times gone by because of its colossal size standing 27m high at some points. Another example of impressive Roman civil engineering is the Puente Romano, the Roman bridge which crosses the river Guadiana with 60 semiciruclar arches. At 800m long, it is one of the longest bridges from antiquity and is used as a pedestrian bridge today since the steel tension Lusitania bridge with its elegant arch was build to take the city's traffic. The Temple of Diana stands on a granite podium with the columns still standing on which the tympanum would have rested, owing its preservation to the Renaissance palace that was once built around it. Underneath the basilica of Santa Eulalia, the crypts also preserve many tombs of the Romans, Visigoths, and several of locals up to the 17th century. The ensemble also includes the Arab citadel which is an extensive fortification beside the Puente Romano with 25 solid towers and a well, decorated with Roman and Visigothic architecture.
Uncover more about history at the National Roman Art Museum, a building designed with architectural motifs from the Roman era. One of the best collections of Roman sculptures and mosaics in the Iberian Peninsula, the museum also looks at what life was like in Emerita Augusta and the various aspects of daily life here. A collection of Visigothic sculpture can also be found in the church of Santa Clara. Those interested in prehistory and mineralogy will enjoy a visit to MAM, a museum containing the Praemérita (prehistoric) and Geomérita (geology) collections with several hundred prehistoric finds and thousands of mineral pieces. Take a wander around the city and follow one of the walking routes that Mérida has to offer along the river bank, around the city centre and through the essential sights of Mérida. There is also a nightime tour where you can find out about the myths and legends of the city including witches, ghosts and mermaids. Enjoy the abundant greenery of the Guadiana's banks which are perfect for birdwatching, or go slightly out of town to the Proserpina reservoir which has bathing areas and meadows all around. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the natural environment including canoeing on the river, and cycling and hiking routes. You can even take a hot air balloon ride! Cultural enthusiasts will also enjoy Mérida's festivals. From July to August, the Classical Theatre Festival has shows performed in the Roman theatre and amphitheatre, and in September the Mérida Fair is a great celebration with sporting events and concerts.
Mérida has some modern city shopping but is also great for traditional shops selling local handicrafts, as well as antiques shops, and a great food market. Part of the Ribera del Guadiana wine region, there are also wineries to visit in the surrounding area. The cuisine of Extremadura is made up of simple, rural dishes that let the natural flavours take precedence. Cold dishes like salads and gazpacho are popular in a region that grows a wide variety of vegetables. Mérida's proximity to the river also means that freshwater fish such as carp, tench and trout are often on the menu and dishes using game like rabbit, partridge and boar are also enjoyed. However, Extremadura is most notable for its pork products and a huge variety of sausages, salamis, tenderloins and cured hams are available, often served as tapas with a drink. Iberian cured ham (Jamón Ibérico de Extremadura) is particularly popular. Cherries and paprika, which grow well in Extremadura, are also used often in cooking. Of course, you should complete your meal with a glass of wine from D.O. Ribera del Guadiana, the only denomination of origin in Extremadura. There is a predominance of red wines in the region using Tempranillo grapes but high quality rosés and white wines are also produced.
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