To visit Mérida, the capital of Extremadura, is to take an epic voyage through the ages. With architectural wonders from the Roman Empire and the Muslim era, Mérida not only embodies a changing political landscape but also evidences the shifts in religious and cultural traditions.

Founded in 25 BC, Emerita Augusta – the honorably discharged soldiers of Augustus – was the westernmost Roman colony. And though the city was conquered by the Muslim army in 713 A.D. and later suffered numerous shifts of power and invasions, it still possesses some of the most remarkable remnants of Roman architecture. This includes the longest extant Roman bridge, the Puente Romano, which measures 792 meters in length and dates back 2000 years. It is only fitting that it would currently serve as the connector between the ancient and modern halves of the city.

Crossing the Puente Romano is like traversing time. You leave behind a modern day concrete jungle teeming with residential buildings and the hallmarks of industry, and cross into another epoch. Ancient temples, like the Templo de Diana, hark back to the days of polytheism and the Roman tradition of paying homage to the gods with lavish shrines. The Anfiteatro de Mérida has a looming presence, one almost as daunting as that of its savage history. Up to 15,000 spectators could gather there to witness fierce gladiators duel to the death.

Flanking the amphitheater is the Teatro Clásico de Mérida. Like the bridges that link the old and new worlds, the theater has also become an integral part of Mérida’s thriving cultural scene. Visit in July and August and watch it come back to life during the Festival Internacional de Teatro Clásico de Mérida. The festival features reproductions of ancient classics and contemporary plays set in ancient times. Let the magic transport you back in time!

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, Mérida is overflowing with many more ancient Roman and Muslim ruins. The Alcazaba fortress is a reminder of the days of Muslim rule; basilicas point back to Paleo-Christian influence. Exquisitely preserved aqueducts and sewage systems are among the best surviving examples of Roman waterworks. When tracing the steps of ancient history throughout the city, it will come as no surprise that Emperor Augustus modeled it after Rome.

 

But don’t be fooled! Mérida has more to offer than ruins. It has all the Spanish flair and charm that you would expect from an Andalusian city. Market stalls brim with local delicacies. Visitors spill out of tiny bars onto small narrow pedestrian streets to indulge in tapas. Old and young congregate around gushing fountains in sun drenched plazas. Vibrantly colored facades turn streets into picturesque urban landscapes. It may not have the same reputation for grandeur that Rome does, but its blend of Spanish panache and Roman history bestow it with a uniqueness all its own. So let the road lead you to Mérida!