Mérida is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Extremadura.
It is situated in a valley at the convergence of two rivers, the Guadiana and
Albarregas that the waters of which lap its foundations and guarantee the
fertility of the surrounding land. The short distance to other influential
cities in the surrounding area led to it becoming the centre for the economic,
cultural, architectural and ecological wealth of the region.
There Like a lot of towns in ancient
times, Mérida developed between two rivers, in this case the Guadiana and one
of its tributaries, the Albarregas (known respectively as Anas and Barraeca in
Roman times). The problems of
crossing these rivers and avoiding flooding were the first challenges that the
Roman engineers had to deal
with when planning the urban development of the new town. The bridges meant that
merchandise had to
pass through the city and also made Mérida a prime target in the strategy of any
army aiming to control the
west of the Iberian peninsula.
From its foundation as a Roman colony, which occurred in 25 BC, and throughout
the first two centuries of
its existence, the people responsible for designing the urban layout and
embellishing the city were trying to
recreate the grandeur of Rome in this far flung outpost of the Empire, in an
attempt to bring the Roman way
of life to places and people unfamiliar with their traditions.
In 15 BC, Augusta Emerita was designated as the capital of an extensive new
province known as Lusitania.
It became a cosmopolitan city, attracting people not only from the rest of
Hispania, as the Romans called the
Iberian Peninsula, but also from the many provinces of the Empire. This led to
the development of customs
and ways of thinking which, while following Roman traditions, also embraced more
exotic influences from
the Middle East and Egypt. Within this melting pot of cultures created by the
Romans, Judaism and
Christianity also began to develop in the city.
When the Western Empire was on the point of collapse, Mérida emerged as the capital of the whole of
Hispania, from where it was governed by a Vicar accompanied by a court of
officials. Later, under Visigothic
control, the Bishops of the Merida Church were commissioned with maintaining the
city’s prestige, a
situation which continued even during a good part of the Omeyan Emirate.
Owing to its development in Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages, the
city is in itself a form of
living archaeological museum. However, the various archaeological museums and
the National Museum of Roman Art, give us a clear and comprehensive idea of
everyday life in Mérida over
the centuries, charting customs that have long since ceased to exist.
In short, Mérida transports us back through more than eight centuries of Spain’s
Mérida is the hub of an
extensive area and an important
crossroads. The A-66 Via de la
Plata motorway (Gijón-Seville)
runs from north to south while
the A-5 (Madrid-Lisbon) and the
A-43 (Lisbon-Valencia) cross it
east to west. It is also an
important rail intersection with
the lines for
Seville, Badajoz, Cáceres and
Ciudad Real converge in the
city. The nearest airports are
Talavera la Real (40 km) and
Seville (200 km).