Strolling down a street lined with boutiques and tapas bars, then turning a corner and coming on a Roman temple. Enjoying an open-air theatre performance on a summer's night in the monumental setting of the Roman theatre, with a history stretching back over 2000 years. Entering the city over a Roman bridge and coming face-to-face with an Arab fortress. This is Mérida, the World Heritage City in Extremadura that we want to help you discover in one day.

In Mérida there are two places you can't possibly miss: the Roman theatre and amphitheatre, and the National Museum of Roman Art. We advise you to organise your day according to whether you want to see the monuments by day, or illuminated by night. You'll need to leave at least one hour for each one, although if you really want to soak up the magical atmosphere of the theatre and linger a little in the amphitheatre, we recommend dedicating a total of around three hours for both. It's a good idea to visit one in the morning and another in the afternoon. This way you can make the most of the morning to visit other points of interest a little further away, then enjoy a pleasant stroll near the shopping area in the evening.

Morning: Roman theatre and amphitheatre

This was the centre of entertainment and savage recreation in Augusta Emerita, a Roman town in the great region of Hispania, and the old name for the city of Mérida. The amphitheatre hosted fights with wild animals, gladiatorial contests, battle re-enactments and even the execution of slaves. The stones that remain here are the remnants of a venue that could accommodate as many as 10,000 spectators. Cheers, applause, screams, the roaring of animals.... Roman life in its purest state. You can visit the rooms where the fighters and wild animals were caged, and even tread what was once the battle arena. Following the itinerary of the visit will bring you to the monumental Roman theatre. The marble columns, lintels, sculptures, and even the base of the stage are the original pieces of the Roman theatre. Although the Visigoths destroyed the temple and used the stones to reinforce the city walls, these elements were found during excavations and the building has been very successfully restored to faithfully recreate the most sophisticated stage in the cultural world of ancient Mérida... and the present day. This theatre continues in use, and in July and August hosts the International Classical Theatre Festival. Here's a game: when you're sitting in the stalls and you've recovered from the impact of seeing this great stage, look for the remains of marble stones among the first rows of the seating. This was the place reserved for senators, which accounts for the use of superior materials. And here's an interesting fact: women, freedmen and slaves sat in the highest part of the theatre. Make a note: you're sure to find it spectacular if you're visiting by day, but seeing it illuminated by night is a whole new experience. Morning is also a good time to visit some monuments that are slightly further away, like the Los Milagros aqueduct, opposite a bridge with Roman origins. We recommend an early-morning visit, because this landscaped area makes a pleasant place for a stroll, and at this time of day you'll see the sun rising gradually between the arches and casting its light on the monument. Depending on the time you choose to visit the theatre and the amphitheatre –and on how hungry you are–, there are two interesting options nearby for your next step. Located opposite the site, if you follow the tourist signposting to the left, you'll be heading for the ruins of the thermal baths and the San Lázaro aqueduct. In front you'll find the old Roman circus. It has a small visitor centre and viewing point that allows you to see it completely, and gives an idea of what this space was like when it had capacity for 30,000 spectators. Otherwise, you can continue on from the Roman theatre on the tourist route towards the right until you come to the Casa del Mitreo building and the Los Columbarios funerary centre, opposite the bullring. The first is particularly interesting, as it is a noble Roman home in which various rooms –some with paintings– can still be seen, and offers an insight into the life of the Romans. Los Columbarios takes a journey through the funerary rites and burials throughout the history of Mérida.  

Typical fare

Now's the time to take a break and savour the traditional cooking of Extremadura. The whole monumental area is full of restaurants, offering everything from daily set menus to a variety of tapas made following local recipes. Typical dishes include the fried breadcrumbs known as "migas extremeñas", and all the products derived from Iberian pork like Iberian ham, Iberian pork steak, Iberian sirloin, black pudding and chorizo. Also salads like "zorongollos" (with red peppers) and "cojondongos" (cold bread and garlic soup). And to drink, typical local Ribera del Guadiana wine.

Afternoon: National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida

The building was designed by the architect Rafael Moneo, and is a gateway to the Roman Empire. Some examples: the back of the main room is presided by an enormous decoration from the portico of the forum, on its walls hang exceptional original mosaics, the basement contains a crypt with domestic constructions and a section of a Roman road... We recommend visiting this link on the "Spain is Culture" website to see its most outstanding works in greater detail. After visiting the museum we suggest a walk to see the sunset in the area of the Roman bridge and the surrounding parkland. What's more, on the way there you'll see a number of surprises. Follow the indications for pedestrians along Calle Sagasta and you'll come to the Forum Portico and particularly the Temple of Diana, with a palatial 15th-century house behind it. A word of advice: come back here at night to enjoy the views of the illuminated temple. Continuing straight ahead, you'll come to the Alcazaba, or Arab fortress and theRoman bridge. The first contains remains from several periods, such as the city's main road in Roman times, a water cistern with both Roman and Arab decoration, and the ground plan of an ancient mosque. It also offers a view from above to enjoy the sight of the Guadiana river with the presence of the Roman bridge. As you cross the bridge you'll be able to stroll around a landscaped area, and this makes a good point to photograph both monuments together.  

The end of the day and dinner

After a day of cultural visits, we suggest taking a stroll around the shopping area in Calle Santa Eulalia and the nearby streets to soak up the city's atmosphere. You could even sit down for a rest in the squares of Plaza de España and La Constitución. On your walk you'll see Trajan's Arch. The whole area is a wonderful place for "going out for tapas" (the custom of moving from bar to bar eating small portions of food).

Things to remember

We've reviewed the most important tourist attractions in Mérida but you'll find many more of interest, and particularly if you're staying longer: a) Basilica of Santa Eulalia and its crypt. At the entrance, you'll see a small oratory whose portico is made with pieces of marble from what was once a Roman temple dedicated to the god Mars. b) Morerías archaeological site, containing ruins of Roman, Arab, Visigoth and Andalusí constructions. c) Visigoth collection with some of the finest examples of Visigoth sculpture in Spain. d) Proserpina reservoir, located around 5 kilometres outside the city. This is one of the largest dike constructions in antiquity. In the surrounding area you'll find the Water Visitor Centre, a landscaped area for strolling and with numerous cafes and restaurants. Admission to the amphitheatre and theatre site also includes access to the Alcazaba fortress, the Casa del Mitreo building, the Roman circus, Los Columbarios funerary centre, the Morerías archaeological site and the crypt of Santa Eulalia. It can be acquired at any of the monuments. You'll find a tourist office opposite the site of the Roman theatre and amphitheatre, and another in Calle Santa Eulalia. Find out about all the guided visits to the Roman theatre and amphitheatre site. There are also visits by night.

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