The Roman Empire endured for 500 years and at its height encompassed 5 million square kilometres and stretched from Hadrian’s Wall in Great Britain to the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. Ruins can be found all over Europe from different periods of the Empire and those in Spain are among the oldest.
The town was founded in 25 BC to protect a pass and became one of the Roman Empire’s most important cities. The Visigoths took over when the Empire fell and they retained the buildings, using the existing structures as their own homes and businesses. Subsequent conquests by the Muslims, Christians, Napoleon and finally the modern world have left their mark, but much of the original Roman city remains and Merida has the best collection of Roman ruins in Spain.
The longest remaining Roman bridge, the Puente Romano is still used by pedestrians and nearby the Muslim fort of Alcazaba makes use of Roman walls. The courthouse has Roman mosaics and a Visigoth cistern is beneath the building.
The Temple of Diana, the Provincial Forum and the Arch of Trajan are all visible within the remains of the Roman Forum.
One of the best preserved circus buildings is Merida’s Circus Maximus that is more than 2000 years old and the Acueducto de los Milagros is a similarly aged aqueduct.
The modern city still uses the Amphitheatre and Roman Theatre to present summer theatre with Greco-Roman themes.
The Church of Santa Eulia dates to the 4th century with some more modern (13th century) upgrades and the other religious buildings; the Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, the Church of Santa Clara, the Church of Nuestra Senora dei Antigua (Gothic) and the church of Nuestra Senora dei Camen (Baroque) span the 13th to the 18th centuries.
The National Museum of Roman Art is in a gorgeous building and houses statues, mosaics and other Roman art and tools. The best collection of Roman artefacts in Spain is found here.
There has been a settlement here since at least 600 BC and possibly as early as 2400 BC. The Romans named the city “Tarraco” and it was the capital of the province as well as the winter headquarters of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. The city flourished and became the richest port on the coat, minting coins with the imperial cult depicted. When the Visigoths took over around 476 AD they did little damage to the city, however the region suffered under the Muslims conquest.
The area of Tarraco is one of the largest Roman archeological digs in Spain and represents the oldest Roman settlement in Iberia. The new National Archaeological Museum has begun displaying many of the finds and protecting the remaining ruins from being pillaged for building materials.
The aqueduct is the most prominent ruin in the area and is in remarkable shape. It’s just outside the city but is huge and a great example of Roman ingenuity in bringing water into their settlements.
Also outside the city, the Torre dels Escipions is a Roman tomb that is also in excellent shape for being almost 2000 years old.
The amphitheatre was a magnificent structure but was used as a quarry for several centuries. Despite this there are still large portions intact and it’s easy to discern the original layout.
Sections of the city walls remain and can be seen at various points around the city.
Carranque Archeological Park
During the 4th century AD this was the site of a village and extensive Roman villa. Numerous small objects such as coins, art pieces tools and even furniture have been recovered and mosaics in remarkable condition are visible on the walls and at the visitor centre.
Three buildings remain and seem to be part of the Villa of Maternus Cinigius, the uncle of Theodosius I, the Roman emperor. As this site was only discovered in 1983, little is known and excavations are ongoing.
"Carranque-basilica". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carranque-basilica.JPG#/media/File:Carranque-basilica.JPG
Known as the Basilica, it’s a hall surrounded by monolithic columns that was converted to a Christian burial site. The decorations indicate that the building was used by a wealthy and powerful patron who used marble, porphyry, serpentine and gold leaf in the mosaics. The marks of a heavy Roman boot and a dog’s paw are visible in the mortar.
A nymphaeum was a monument to the water nymphs and usually built around natural springs. The nymphaeum of Carranque is too damaged to determine if it was dedicated to a particular nymph but its location is near the river and several mosaics covered the floor.
The Villa of Maternus has been excavated enough to find the hypocaust – the heating system that runs under the floor. The mosaics have helped to identify the purposes of the rooms of the Villa.
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