After the fall of the Roman Empire in the west, Merida maintained much of its splendor. During the Visigothic period, especially under the 6th century domination of the bishops, it was the elegant, thriving capital of Hispania. In 713 it was conquered by the Muslim army , and remained the capital under a different culture and a new set of rulers. The Arabs used and expanded the old Roman buildings. A prime example of this is the Alcabaza, the first structure of this type in Moorish Spain, begun in the year 835. It remains one of Spain’s oldest Moorish buildings. Sitting above the Rio Guadiana, it incorporates part of the city’s defensive walls and offers a fine view of the surrounding country and the Roman Bridge. The walls are 30 feet high and 8 feet thick. Inside there is a perfectly preserved cistern, or well, that is a type rarely seen outside of north Africa. We stepped carefully down a long passageway, descending from the hot sunshine into the cool dark depths. At the bottom was a lapis blue to turquoise pool, alive with gold-fish, pierced by shafts of natural light spilling down from the vaulted window far above.
The city returned to the Christians in 1230, when it was conquered by Alfonso of Leon. It became the seat of the priory of San Marcos de León of the Order of Santiago. A period of recovery started for Mérida in the 1400’s. In the 19th century, many monuments of Mérida and of Extremadura were destroyed or damaged during the invasion of Napoleon’s forces.
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