Mr Anglo-Saxonist hates beaches – in general – and overcrowded Spanish beaches in particular. Which is why, despite of us having visited Spain three times so far, we’ve never yet been down the Mediterranean coast. On the other hand his dislike of beach holidays led us to visit a small town in the west of Spain which, quite simply, blew our minds.
Mérida in the Extremadura
It was Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s turn to choose the family holiday destination a few years ago and, in consideration for the Spanish-learning half of the family, he chose Spain: there were Roman ruins, he said, in Mérida in the Extremadura, that his grandfather once drove him past when he was small and he rather thought he’d like to see them closer up.
There were bitter protests around the dinner table after a map of Spain was hastily examined and the distance to the sea became obvious. This time there was not even going to be a day trip to the seaside. (On a previous trip we managed to drag him to Cádiz on the pretext that we had to see the place Sir Francis Drake burned down; and we had a half-an-hour dip in the Atlantic Ocean under the walls of the fort.) But Mérida? Whoever even heard of Mérida?… What was this about Roman ruins in Mérida? Surely it was the same as Itálica!… Why couldn’t we go somewhere where there was something?! (Like a beach.)… When Mr Anglo-Saxonist grew bored with the hullabaloo, he pointed out that it was his turn to choose and he chose Mérida, full stop. It would do us all good to see the real Spain, he said, where the conquistadors had come from.
Well, that was that, then.
Romans Have Been Here
We hired a flat in Mérida for a week. It was the end of October but it was unseasonably warm: 25-28 degrees and blazing sunshine. The meteorologist read the weather forecast on the local TV station with a huge grin on his face every day. Despite of this, the locals, especially the old ladies, went around covered from head to toe in black garb – I went around in sleeveless tops and a pair of denim shorts, drawing disapproving looks from the aforesaid old ladies. Rural Spain, it seemed, was as conservative in this respect as rural Hungary (where, being a local, I’d never dare to exhibit myself in denim shorts at my age). As for the Roman ruins… well, see for yourself:
To say that there are Roman ruins Mérida is an English understatement; you might as well say that there are Roman ruins in Rome. The evidence of ‘Romans have been here’ is, quite simply, all over town. I’ve got a picture of Young Friend of the Elephants on the swing (a pre-EU-directives swing that she could actually swing on) in the park near our flat with a Roman aqueduct for a backdrop. Across a busy main road from the aqueduct there is a Roman circus, where two thousand years ago a crowd of 30 thousand people used to roar during the chariot races. You stand in the middle of the track, now grassed over, and think of Charlton Heston in Ben Hur. There is a Temple of Diana with a 16th century ducal palace attached, standing among houses, municipality buildings and restaurants in a central street; it’s not even cordoned off, it’s part of the street. There is a Roman bridge still in use across the River Guadiana and a Roman villa with walls and mosaics still in situ near the bullring. There is an amphitheatre – and a theatre that will be treated to a post of its own next Monday (it will blow your minds). There’s an arch of Trajan. There are quaint little plazas with churches and there is even an Alcazaba – a Moorish fortress.
Originally called Emerita Augusta, Mérida was founded in 25 BC by the Emperor Augustus to settle the veteran legionaries. Once the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania, today it’s the capital of the region of Extremadura with some 50 thousand inhabitants, about five hours by train to the west of Madrid. And a UNESCO World Heritage town owing to its very impressive archaeological ensemble. Go and visit. 🙂
You might also like: ⇒ Spain in Black & White ⇒ The Mezquita of Córdoba ⇒ The Amphitheatre of Itálica ⇒ Cáceres, Town of Conquistadors and Bell-towers ⇒ First Impressions of Toledo