The Emperor Augustus (63 BC – AD 14) established the Roman colony known as Augusta Emerita – later to become modern Mérida – in 25 BC, and today it is designated as a Unesco site due to the plethora of archaeological sites which remain. Of the most impressive are the theatre and the amphitheatre but also well-preserved remains of the ancient city also include a large bridge, circus, and water supply system. It is considered by Unesco as as an excellent example of a provincial Roman capital during the empire. We didn’t have time to explore the entire remains of the city as this was a pit stop on our journey home. However, we managed to explore the theatre and amphitheatre which were in themselves quite vast archaeological sites.
“Mérida is symbolic of the process of Romanization in a land that had hitherto not been influenced by the urban phenomenon. It contains the substantial remains of a number of important elements of Roman town design, considered to be one of the finest surviving examples of its type; the aqueducts and other elements of Roman water management are also especially well preserved and complete.” Unesco website
The Roman amphitheatre constructed around the same time as the theatre was inaugurated in 8 B.C. according to inscriptions.
The amphitheatre in its time would have held 15,000 spectators. Marcus Agrippa ordered the building of the theatre, which was inaugurated between 16 and 15B/C. Around 105 A.D. the big façade at the front of the amphitheatre was also added. The building fell into disuse due to the introduction of Christianity which at the time considered theatrical performances like the ones produced here ‘immoral’. Over the years parts of the structures collapsed and became submerged to leave only the upper sections of the seating in the amphitheatre visible. This in effect preserved a lot of the site. Excavation on the Roman theatre began in 1910. You can find out more about the archaeological ensemble at Mérida on the Unesco website here.