It seems that all roads in Roman Hispania led to Merida: The Via Pecuria from Sevilla in the south to Astorga in the north, the road west to Lisbon and east to Toledo and Zaragoza, and the road southeast to Cordoba all crossed right here. The city was founded in 25 BC and became the social and economic center of the province of Lusitania. Today it is a thriving town featuring a treasure trove of well-preserved Roman ruins, and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We entered Merida over the fantastic, long, arched bridge, the Puente Romano. It crosses the Rio Guadiana with 60 perfect stone arches spanning a distance of almost 800 meters, or 2400 feet. That is nearly 8 football fields! It has been restored through the centuries, but it’s core foundation and design remains from the original Roman construction begun around 25 BC with the founding of the city. It is the longest bridge ever built by the Romans, and remains the longest surviving bridge from ancient times. It is still used by pedestrians, and at night one can walk along the banks of the river with the lights illuminating this beautiful structure.
The Teatro Romano, or Roman Theater, has been partially restored and is still used for performances and concerts. Until excavation began in 1910, most of the theater lay hidden beneath the ground. Only the very top of the seating area was exposed. The local population referred to it as “The Seven Chairs”, because of its resemblance to giant seats. Legend said that these were the seats of the 7 Moorish Kings who deliberated the fate of the city. As the excavation progressed, refined and expressive marble statuary, mosaics of incredible beauty, stately marble pillars, an orchestra pit, a classical stage, and seating for 6000 people was unearthed. Built into a natural hillside, the structure was extended to form a perfect semi-circle. The building techniques that have lasted throughout the millenia are clearly evident. It is complete with arched passageways, marble seating, red marble stage parts forming a base for 2 tiers of blue-gray marble Corinthian columns. What must it have been like 2000 years ago to sit in the hot nights, under the stars, and watch the performances?
What did the people think and talk about as they strolled through the lavish gardens partaking of beautiful food and wine throughout the evening? What a sophisticated society reigned here, only to be lost from memory and buried from sight by the shifting earth for nearly 160 centuries. It chills me to think of the knowledge, beauty, and incredibly advanced lifestyles that can be lost, sometimes forever, with the fall of a government.
Lay Day in Merida
Actual Distance Walked= 8.99 Miles / 14.5 Kilometers
Accommodations= Hostal Senero. 16 Euro per person, per night, in a double or triple room with an en-suite bathroom.
There is a new Albergue near the river. 12 places, 5 Euro per person. We chose to stay in a hostal because we were staying 2 nights.
If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”